In a major victory for advocates for sexual minorities, Canada last week banned conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law criminalizes subjecting anyone in Canada to conversion therapy, taking advantage of it, or taking a Canadian out of the country for conversion therapy elsewhere.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to hail the ban on what he called a “despicable and degrading practice.”
Jonathan Di Carlo, a student at the University of Ottawa, considers himself a survivor of conversion therapy, having attended sessions “primarily in religious settings” for more than a decade from the age of 13. .
“They included attempts to exorcise demons in front of people, forced individual counseling where a pastor with no formal training in psychotherapy convinced me that homosexuality was caused by an absent father or that it was caused by rape in a young age by someone of the same sex, like a father or an uncle, ”Di Carlo told VOA. “Then I was told to ‘fast,’ a biblical practice where a person does not eat or drink except water. … I did 40 days [of consuming] only water, twice. “
Conversion therapy has been rejected by a range of Western medical groups, including the American Medical Association, which has linked the practice to “significant long-term damage,” including depression, anxiety, and possibly suicidal behavior.
Last year, a report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council found that conversion therapy is practiced in 68 countries and that victims can be subjected to “heinous physical and psychological violence”. The report adds: “Attempts to pathologize and erase the identity of individuals, to deny their existence as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or gender diverse and to provoke self-loathing have profound consequences on their lives. physical and psychological integrity and their well-being.
Di Carlo says he knows the consequences firsthand.
“The torture from conversion therapy made me even more depressed with a lot of suicidal thoughts,” Di Carlo told VOA. “I treated myself with alcohol for several years under the pressure of wanting to be straight but God doesn’t make me straight.”
Today, the student is overflowing with another emotion: pride.
“I think the fact that Canada made this decision makes the country stand out,” said Di Carlo. “He says we have an approach to human rights that few other long-standing democracies have. He says Canada recognizes that this practice has no scientific basis. It is criminal and it is torture.
Canada is already considered a popular destination for persecuted LGTBQ people around the world, hosting a charity aimed at encouraging this migration named Rainbow Railroad.
LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, questioning. In Canada, “2” is often added to the end of initials, recognizing some Aboriginal people who identify as having both a male and female mind.
Some Canadian faith groups have spoken out against the ban on the basis of religious freedom. Additionally, an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail framed the issue as a matter of personal freedom, asking, “Should consenting adults be allowed to access services that are harmful to them?” “
Canada joins four countries that have legally banned conversion therapy nationally: Brazil, Ecuador, Germany and Malta. Germany prohibits the practice for minors or forced people. It is banned in some US states, but not in others.
Some fear that even where it is prohibited, conversion therapy will continue.
Halifax-based sexual minority rights defender Fae Johnstone of Wisdom2Action fears that Canada’s ban will “wipe out the practice altogether.”
Johnstone noted, “A lot of practitioners don’t describe themselves as conversion therapists.” She added that conversion therapy will likely continue as an underground practice.
For now, however, supporters of the ban are on a victory lap.
“Survivors have been fighting for this day for decades, so seeing this advocacy, this struggle and this resilience finally pay off is overwhelming in the best possible way,” Nicholas Schiavo, founder of No Conversion Canada, told VOA. “This law sends a clear message to LGBTQ2 people, here in Canada and around the world, that Canada remains a leader in human rights and will act to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.