Canada’s ban on conversion therapy is a historic moment

Photo credit: Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

Photo credit: Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

While the media has been fully enveloped in the international COVID-19 pandemic, there actually have been other things going on (although not for much longer with everything shutting down for a few weeks, but I digress). 

One of those major developments that has been completely overshadowed was the Attorney General’s decision to ban conversion therapy in Canada, a landmark decision and a massive step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in this country.

Conversion Therapy is a pseudoscientific practice that involves trying to change somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological means. In 2007, an American Psychological Association study found that conversion therapy is highly unlikely to reduce same sex attraction or increase heterosexual attraction. 

The ban appears to hit right on the sweet spot between protecting against discrimination and maintaining individual rights, as it bans it for those who cannot consent and those who do not consent. This is the compromise that should be embraced by all within a liberal democratic society, as it ensures the balancing of all rights and freedoms enjoyed by consenting adults, while protecting vulnerable populations.

The key element of that is protecting vulnerable populations, because the evidence overwhelmingly shows that conversion therapy is both pseudoscientific and also incredibly dangerous and harmful to those who take part.

Conversion therapy in youth (and the rejection of a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity more broadly) is known to be incredibly harmful to children. According to a study from the San Francisco State University, rejecting a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity increases the likelihood of them committing suicide by 800 per cent, becoming clinically depressed by 600 per cent and become a regular user of drugs by 300 per cent, among other things.

It also has been known to be pseudoscientific by the broader scientific community for many years, having been condemned by a plethora of national and international health associations around the world for many years now. What this means is that medical practitioners that provided conversion therapy would not be licensed by these associations or could have their licenses revoked, leaving them unable to practice medicine here in Canada.

Of course, this didn’t stop practitioners who were not licensed or accredited to offer the ‘treatment,’ hence the need for the ban.

While the change is historic, it does appear to have a few oversights, ones that are accounted for in better conversion therapy bans, even within this country.

Ontario has had a ban on conversion therapy in place since 2015, having been introduced by NDP MPP and my personal political hero Cheri DiNovo (Fun fact: DiNovo performed the first same sex marriage in Canada back in 2001, four years before it was actually legalized.). The bill received unanimous support from all members of the legislature and is one of the crowning achievements of DiNovo’s decade long career as an MPP in Ontario.

The ban in Ontario includes protections for not only sexual orientation but also gender identity, something that is woefully lacking in the Canadian ban. This is baffling to me, given the science on gender dysmorphia similarly outlining that it is in fact not a mental illness (despite years of pseudoscientific research to the contrary). 

My hope as a straight ally is that this national ban may help shift the conversation regarding sexuality amongst those who are homophobic. Many often argue that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that can and should be cured, but perhaps this national affirmation of the science against this and in the defense of those who have been victimized by conversion therapy will change the way we talk about sexuality for the better.

Oftentimes people will pertuate self-hatred approaches to dealing with LGBTQ friends and family members. To tell a loved one, especially a child or younger family member, that they are mentally ill or deficient because of the way that they were born instills massive psychological trauma onto them from an early age that often sticks with them throughout their lives (and as previously noted, often materializes in the form of destructive behaviours). This shouldn’t be complicated to understand and yet far too often I hear people talking about LGBTQ+ identity like alcoholism or smoking.

While there are clear gaps in this recent ban (and there will certainly be large scale backlash to the move from some groups in the country), this is a historic leap forward for LGBTQ+ people in Canada. The ban on conversion therapy ultimately offers a strong foundation for future efforts to eliminate stigma, oppression and discrimination for LGBTQ+ Canadians, something that we should all get behind.

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