Tracy Gray, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, along with a majority of the Conservative party, voted against a bill that would criminalize scientifically and medically debunked conversion practices that cause incredible harm to people in our community. Looking at this from the lens of youth who are most vulnerable and often the victims, this is astonishing.
In response, over 350 of the Kelowna 2S-LGBTQIA+ community and allies tuned into a virtual town hall on Monday, July 15th, to hear from panellists and provide input for a public response to Gray. The call for a public apology was clear, with some calling for her resignation.
In dealing with this, we need to understand the root cause and call it what it is — subtle homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. I say subtle because this MP would never label herself as such. She states and likely believes that she is an ally because of voting in favour of a rainbow crosswalk, attending Pride marches, and displaying a Pride flag in her office. These performative gestures do not make an ally. This vote, however, is rooted in homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.
Our colonial past has brought us to this point today. As governments and explorers sought to colonize the lands we inhabit, they leveraged religious organizations to erase Indigenous culture, appropriate their land and resources, and steal the innocence of their children. These religions wielded their power through instilling fear, guilt, and shame, along with the promise of everlasting hellfire for non-believers. This ideology carries on today, labelling being 2S-LGBTQIA+ a sin along with ways to fix it through prayer and conversion practices.
We have been fortunate in Canada to see laws changing to protect 2S-LGBTQIA+ rights and enhance the criminal code to include protections within the law. What hasn’t changed is the religious practices and tactics to effect conversion. Whether or not it is called ‘therapy’ makes no difference. It is all incredibly harmful and is for the sole purpose of erasing the 2S-LGBTQIA+ community from visibility. In their world, we are considered broken.
Gray has aligned with these outdated and harmful ideas with her vote.
Elected representatives need to have an ongoing dialogue with our community, particularly on matters of such importance. It’s not enough to just show up at a Pride march for a photo op once a year. In fact, that can be incredibly deceptive. In this case, we thought we had an ally representing us, but we were abandoned when it came to this vote.
Several community members have stepped up to join a task force to develop a public response to Gray. The task force will also be calling on the City of Kelowna to implement a “conversion therapy” ban and rally the community around political action in the next federal election. We need our politicians to move beyond performative allyship and engage in a meaningful way with our community.
Wilbur Turner (he/him) is the founder of Advocacy Canada, an organization dedicated to unifying and amplifying 2S-LGBTQIA+ voices on important advocacy issues. He identifies as gay and queer, lives in Kelowna on the unceded traditional land of the syilx peoples and has contributed on many levels to 2S-LGBTQIA+ rights, both locally and internationally.