Legislation would protect minors from harmful, destructive practices
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
Last month the BC Green Party put forward legislation to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors in the province.
“This bill supports those with diverse sexualities, gender identities, and expressions,” said BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in a statement on May 27. “It sends a clear message that it is okay to be who you are, that your elected officials and those in positions of power hear you and will act now to protect your human rights.”
The ban is part of a larger bill titled the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act and would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on individuals under 19 years of age. While the Ministry of Health has stated that conversion therapy has never been covered under the province’s medical services plan, BC does not currently have an outright ban in place to prevent it—though the City of Vancouver passed a law restricting businesses from offering conversion therapy last summer.
Conversion therapy is defined as a pseudoscientific practice meant to “change” one’s sexual or gender orientation, often with psychologically scarring and traumatizing results for 2SLGBTQ+ people. The practice has long been criticized and debunked by psychologists, with US Surgeon General David Satcher stating in a 2001 report that “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
The Canadian Psychological Association issued a policy statement strongly opposing the practice in 2015.
“Scientific research does not support the efficacy of conversion or reparative therapy,” the policy states, adding that the practice “can result in negative outcomes such as distress, anxiety, depression, negative self-image, a feeling of personal failure, difficulty sustaining relationships, and sexual dysfunction.”
Despite this, only two provinces have outright banned conversion therapy for people of all ages: Ontario and Manitoba, who took provincial action in 2015. Nova Scotia banned conversion therapy on minors in 2018. Alberta was making progress towards a ban, but such actions have since been cancelled by the new United Conservative Government—a decision that Weaver condemned in his statement, saying that “It is particularly important and timely to be advancing this ban today, as we hear news that the [UCP] is walking back the previous government’s commitment to end the practice there.”
A public push for a federal ban was spearheaded by Alberta 2SLGBTQ+ activist Devon Hargreaves and presented in the House of Commons this past February by NDP MP for Saskatoon West, Sheri Benson. Though the federal government condemned the practice in their response, they rejected the proposal, calling it a provincial and territorial issue. Hargreaves was critical of the federal government’s decision.
“If there isn’t a federal ban, we have a hard time tracking where this is still happening, and it shouldn’t be happening anywhere,” said Hargreaves in an interview with the CBC.
2SLGBTQ+ activists in BC have voiced support for the BC Greens’ ban in a series of statements.
“There is no place for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, as outlined in the BC Human Rights Code and the Human Rights Act of Canada,” said Nicola Spurling, president of Tri-Cities Pride, in the BC Greens’ press release. “As such, I call on British Columbia’s provincial government to end this archaic and unscientific practice, and to send the message that our province will no longer tolerate these attacks on 2SLGBTQ+ people.”
Peter Gajdics, conversion therapy survivor and author of The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir, also voiced his support for the bill.
“When I left my own six years of ‘therapy,’ in 1995 […] I had no words to describe what had happened to me,” Gajdics said in his statement on the matter. “In truth, so-called conversion therapy is soul-crushing torture that ends up not even being about ‘changing’ sexual orientation as it is about eradicating homosexuality, silencing it from the bodies of people who are gay. Legislative intervention helps prevent torture.”