I Survived Conversion Therapy. Here s What An Effective Canadian Ban Must Do.

I Survived Conversion Therapy. Here s What An Effective Canadian Ban Must Do.
There are few things more unsettling to the LGBTQ community as the idea of conversion therapy. The fact that organizations and practitioners exist to drive human beings to try to kill off part of their true identity is worsened only by the reality that this unique brand of torture is still legal throughout most of Canada. Its why Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus Dec. 13, 2019 announcemen t that he would move to ban conversion therapy nationwide has brought such palpable relief to victims like myself.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 9, 2019 in Ottawa.

A 2019 report out of the University of British Columbia and submitted to Canadas House of Commons estimates that more than 20,000 sexual-minority Canadians have been exposed to some form of conversion therapy though I suspect the real numbers to be much higher. Roughly have been subjected to some form of the practice. Not all of these folks were coerced into a form of conversion therapy; in fact, a great many people actively seek out these programs and willingly sign on to their methods.

I know, because this is precisely what happened to me.

I was 24 years old and living in Vancouver, B.C., when a plea for help turned into a six-year nightmare that altered my life forever. In 1989, my familys rejection of my homosexuality left me spiralling into a deep depression. My family doctor referred me to a psychiatrist who, over the next six years, told me that he was repairing my damaged inner masculinity and sexuality using drugs and methods such as aversion therapy and reparenting ; that he was helping me unlearn the error of my homosexuality. I left the treatment feeling dead inside.

You belong. Sure, you also may contemplate suicide, but thats beside the point.

In the medical malpractice lawsuit that followed , the psychiatrist denied any wrongdoing. He claimed he had simply treated my depression, but his actions echo the false belief that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any other sexual minority are broken and in need of fixing. Hes not alone. Since the demise of Exodus International, the worlds largest ex-gay organization, conversion therapy or reparative therapy programs that seek to change homosexuality to heterosexuality now veil their intentions in seemingly pro-LGBTQ language with a focus on sexual integrity, sexual struggles and identity issues. Today they talk less about changing sexual orientation, and instead offer healing through Christ to help the homosexual live a celibate or heterosexual lifestyle.

The outcome of these programs is always the same. No deep inner transformation takes place. Instead, such programs take an individuals desire to belong and turn it into a desire for conformity. If you learn how to walk like a man or to dress like a woman, to couple with an opposite-sex partner, you are healed. You belong. Sure, you also may contemplate suicide, but thats beside the point.

I have been an advocate for legal restrictions on conversion therapy for over 20 years. I helped push for the first municipal ban in Canada in my home city of Vancouver. When I first reached out to the city in 2017, Vancouvers then LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee (a sub-committee of Vancouver City Council) resisted the idea that a ban on conversion therapy was even needed, or that such therapies still occurred at all. Sharing my experiences helped change their minds. The motion had originally been restricted to those under 18 years of age, which was amended after one councillor voiced their shock.

Shannon Fagan via Getty Images

Councillors at Vancouver City Hall voted on a municipal ban on conversion therapy.

But when the ban was enacted in 2018, it was a milestone, not a solution. The ban prohibits any business in the Vancouver area from charging a fee for any services that seek to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of any person. It further clarifies that Services prohibited do not include services that provide acceptance, support or understanding of a person or the facilitation of a persons coping, social support or identity exploration or development.

This definition allows some organizations offering change treatments to continue with business as usual, continuing to insist they provide counselling and faith support rather than services that seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ineffectiveness of Vancouvers ban demonstrates that Trudeau will need to do far more than any provincial or municipal bans have previously attempted. Defining what exactly constitutes conversion therapy, then targeting known practitioners, will be his governments challenge.

Conversion therapy, like all forms of hatred and intolerance, is a problem of ideology.

Senate Bill S-202 , An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy) has reached second reading after being tabled in early 2019 bySenator Serge Joyal. Unfortunately, the bill makes no mention of criminalizing the act of conversion therapy, only advertising and gaining of material benefit from it. Bill S-202 is also restricted to people under the age of 18.

This is just not good enough.

The Senate bills definition of conversion therapy falls short in capturing the full scope and subversive nature of these treatments. It is no longer good enough to state that these treatments seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity; lawmakers now need to clarify that conversion or reparative attempts typically occur under the guise of help, a distinct part of what makes todays so-called conversion therapy so covert and deadly.

Lawmakers need to ban these conversion attempts for all, not only for those who are coerced or forced to sign up. To be sure, no one ever chooses conversion therapy so much as they continue doing to themselves what society has done to them from the start. Any amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada in an effort to end conversion therapy should make the act itself an indictable offence, regardless of material benefit or in the absence of advertising. And the ban should not be restricted to minors. Finally, all faith organizations known to practice these anti-LGBTQ treatments should be stripped of their charitable status.

When I provided my witness testimony to Vancouver City Council, I told them that conversion therapy, like all forms of hatred and intolerance, is a problem of ideology it knows no borders or nationality. Conversion therapy is torture, plain and simple. No one has the right to torture another human being, or to expose them to a fraudulent, cruel and dangerous human rights violation .

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