Even after decades of progress, discrimination, violence, and oppression based on sexual orientation and gender expression remain a constant reality. This comes from within families, faith communities, political operatives, governments, and society. So-called conversion therapy is one tool that is still used by some therapists and religious groups to attempt to cure someone to align with a heterosexual or cisgender identity. The premise behind this is that it is an illness, and therapy is the answer.
Scientific evidence proves these harmful practices never work but rather cause lasting harm to those subjected to them. The predominant push to promote conversion therapy comes from religion; however, in some cases, it is more to do with family honour and the fear of societal shame for either being in the LGBTQ spectrum or having a child who is.
Bill C-6 is slowly moving through Canada’s legislative system to ban conversion therapy. Whether it gets passed before another election remains to be seen. In the meantime, several municipalities in Canada are moving ahead with their own ban. Regina’s city council is the latest to vote in favour of drafting a bylaw to ban the practice. This didn’t come about without the local community being subjected to blatant homophobic and transphobic language from council members and many individuals who spoke against the motion in a drawn-out public hearing.
The victory in Regina may seem hollow to those subjected to the vitriol and misinformation expressed by those opposing the ban. There have been suggestions that the Kelowna community should mobilize and get the city council to bring in a ban. Would this also dredge up and subject the community to similar harmful rhetoric as what happened in Regina?
Kelowna has seen progress when it comes to supporting the local community. Allyship has grown, and support has become more vocal; however, a conversion therapy ban is an issue that opponents are using to whip up public support, and no doubt they would arise en-masse with their tired and outdated arguments just like they did in Regina.
In 1996 when Kelowna held its first Pride March, a delegation of opposed citizens prepared a nasty slide presentation for the city council. In 1997 when the mayor refused to proclaim Gay Pride Week, his office received hundreds of letters of support, mainly from people who claimed to be Christian. In both cases, the local papers printed dozens of letters to the editor filled with homophobia. In 2015 when the city installed rainbow crosswalks, a similar outcry occurred in local media.
To those who ask if conversion therapy is happening in Kelowna, proposing a ban will ultimately identify any religious groups or organizations afraid of such a ban. That will be the first clue.
From mild to wild, any display of homophobia and transphobia does harm to the community. The harm is in perpetuating stigma, myths, inciting violence and discrimination, which leads to mental and physical trauma, and in some cases, death. The damage from conversion therapy has the same outcomes.
The question is, would the benefit of having a local ban outweigh being exposed to the theatrics and harmful language of those opposed?
Wilbur Turner (he/him), who identifies as gay and queer, is a Kelowna-based writer and advocate who has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ rights, both locally and internationally.
(Image Credit: Clinton Myers)