Opposing the Conversion Therapy Ban is an Appeal to Social Conservatives at the Expense of the Queer Community

Written on 08/15/2021
Wilbur Turner

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray was not alone in voting against Bill C-6. The opposition to the definition of conversion therapy in Bill C-6, an act to amend the Criminal Code, came from 62 members of the Conservative Party and one independent member of Parliament. They all expressed the same concern that the definition is too broad.

They state the bill will criminalize conversations between parents and children or adults wishing to have conversations about sexual attraction or gender dysphoria. This is disingenuous in that having conversations and therapy are distinct. As stated by MP Randall Garrison, "There is no case in law... in which a conversation is treated as a practice, treatment or service."

According to the Community-Based Research Centre, this is problematic, "In some cases, these conversion efforts are not well organized or delineated. For example, a teenager who expresses distress about their gender identity or sexual orientation may go to (or be taken to) a counsellor, healthcare provider, church leader or another person of authority for advice on the matter. This person may give direction or advice that would delay or impede the teenager from relating back to their gender identity or sexual orientation in an affirming, positive way."

The bill will also limit religious freedom those in opposition claim. Religious beliefs around homosexuality and being transgender are at the heart of conversion therapy, creating organized and sustained efforts to change or repress a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The religious lobby efforts against Bill C-6 have been well organized, and the influence on Conservative politicians who voted against the bill are clearly apparent in their talking points.

The definition was revised after the bill's first reading to address concerns about ensuring that people who wish to explore their identity are free to do so. The definition in the bill reads, "Conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change a person's gender identity or gender expression to cisgender or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour or non-cisgender gender expression. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates to the exploration and development of an integrated personal identity without favouring any particular sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."

Opponents of the current definition often mention witnesses who state the legislation will harm them. What isn't mentioned is the numerous witnesses who spoke of the bill not going far enough. "The Sex Now Survey estimates more than 40,000 people have experienced conversion therapy practices in Canada, and this bill would only protect a third of them," said Matt Ashcroft, a conversion therapy survivor.

Those who voted against the bill are facing public criticism for their failure to support the queer community. Kelowna Pride Society recently issued a statement advising MP Gray that she would not be welcome to have a formal part in Pride events in September. They also reiterated a community request for a public apology.

Gray is not backing down on her vote. Despite not consulting 2S-LGBTQIA+ voters in her constituency, Gray continued to justify her decision, accused Kelowna Pride of engaging in partisan politics, and said she would not apologize. Gray was singled out for her harmful actions and seems to forget that Pride has always been political.

With a federal election nearing, it is important that all 63 MPs who voted against this bill are punished at the polls. Their arguments are weak, reflect the efforts of religious lobbyists, and appear to be trying to appeal to socially conservative voters at the expense of protecting the queer community from degrading and harmful practices.

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 contributes on many levels to 2S-LGBTQIA+ rights, both locally and internationally.

(Image Credit: @stephenlautens)