Out in the World: Canadian parliament votes to ban conversion therapy for minors

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday December 15, 2021
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House of Commons members in Canada unexpectedly united to speed up a bill banning conversion therapy for minors. Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
House of Commons members in Canada unexpectedly united to speed up a bill banning conversion therapy for minors. Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Conservatives led the charge in Canada's Parliament to vote to ban conversion therapy for minors.

The Senate voted without any objections on the bill proposed by Conservative Senator Leo Housakos and fast-tracked through all legislative stages December 7. Previously, the House of Commons voted unanimously to pass the bill brought forward by Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, who has become a proponent of LGBTQ rights since becoming head of the party. O'Toole allowed his party to have a free vote on the issue.

In an unusual occurrence, conservatives voted in agreement with their liberal counterparts.

"The community has been heard," Housakos said in the Senate, reported the Toronto Star.

"It was heard by the House of Commons and we saw the House of Commons do the right thing and pass this piece of legislation unanimously and they did so because they thought it was in the national interest to do so," Housakos continued.

The Senate's passage of the bill requires royal assent from the Governor General or her designate for it to become law, reported the paper.

Canada could become the sixth country in the world to ban the widely-discredited practice. Conversion therapy is a practice that attempts to convert sexual orientation and gender identity using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions.

The Bay Area Reporter previously reported on the United Nations' groundbreaking report last year, when Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, stated that the practice "may amount to torture." The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and other professional organizations and medical professionals condemn the practice, which has been debunked by many in the medical profession.

The New Democrats and Liberals in the Canadian legislature came together December 1 in an emotional vote brought forward by the conservatives in a surprise motion to fast-track the legislation. The move saw liberals cross the aisle shaking hands with, and hugging, their legislative counterparts following the vote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously attempted to pass the law twice with his Liberal colleagues.

"There are clearly people in the Conservative caucus who exercised a great deal of leadership on the issue, and I thank them," Federal Justice Minister David Lametti told the Guardian. "This is what we can do when parliament works together."

Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault, who is also a special adviser to Trudeau on LGBTQ issues, praised the vote, calling it "a great day for survivors."

"We said we wanted people to be on the right side of history on this issue. No one can consent to torture," Boissonnault told reporters. "It's a great day for survivors, to know that no one else is going to go through what they went through."

Trudeau's Liberal party attempted twice to push the legislation forward but both efforts failed. In June, an earlier version of the bill was approved by the House with 62 conservatives voting against the motion. That bill did not make it to the Senate before September's federal elections. In March 2020, the bill died after the parliamentary session ended.

Previously, several conservative members of parliament expressed concern that mental health professionals, religious leaders, and teachers could be criminalized if they spoke about gender identity or sexual orientation with children.

Those objections were unfounded, Lametti told the BBC.

Laws differ among countries, states

Conversion therapy bans are not clear-cut across the world. A few countries and states protect adults and/or give adults the option to seek out the services. More common are conversion therapy bans for minors. Only 13 countries have some form of a national conversion therapy ban on record, along with many states, provinces, and cities around the world, according to Stonewall UK.

Adults are protected from conversion therapy in Ecuador if the practice occurs in a rehabilitation clinic. Malta legally protects "vulnerable adults," with clear definitions of "vulnerabilities," and/or when conversion therapy is performed by a professional. Germany's ban includes adults who experience "force, fraud, or pressure," according to Stonewall UK. All three also ban the practice for minors. Andalusia, Aragon, Madrid, and Valencia in Spain ban the practice for adults of all ages, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association's World 2020 report.

Some provinces and states around the world have banned conversion therapy. The B.A.R. previously reported that Queensland and Victoria states in Australia have made the practice a criminal offense for all ages. Queensland's law exempted religious institutions. Madras in India did not specify age. Yucatan in Mexico recently banned the practice for all ages, but penalties could double for offenses against minors, reported the Gay Times.

Minors are protected from conversion therapy in Mexico City. In the U.S., it is banned for minors in 20 states, including California and the territory of Puerto Rico, according to the Movement Advancement Project. According to MAP, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia have preliminary injunctions preventing the enforcement of conversion therapy bans.

Health care professionals are banned from practicing conversion therapy in Argentina, Chile, Samoa, Taiwan (where it is criminalized for health practitioners), and in Murcia, Spain.

Legislation banning conversion therapy is at various stages of consideration in Denmark, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway.

ILGA-World reported in 2020 that Norway's Labour Party announced a 10-point plan to increase LGBTQ rights in June of that year. The plan included a ban on conversion therapy and intersex genital mutilation. The plan was rejected by parliament, but Norway's new government plans to ban conversion therapy, reported Trans Express. It is not clear if the country's lawmakers will target all ages or just minors.

The United Kingdom is currently considering a package of proposals to ban conversion therapy.

Undercover report outs US evangelical conversion therapy groups in Costa Rica

Therapists connected to Focus on the Family and the Exodus Global Alliance were busted practicing conversion therapy in Costa Rica last month, a website reported.

The United States-based conservative groups were discovered by undercover reporters posing as LGBTQ teens in Costa Rica who the therapists "treated" or "offered to treat" sexual orientation and gender identity, according to a report by Open Democracy released November 24.

Focus on the Family is a conservative organization founded by psychologist James Dobson in 1977. FRC is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Exodus Global Alliance is a Christian group that advocates and promotes so-called ex-gay movements, according to its website. The group formed the global arm of the controversial and now-defunct Exodus International.

Conversion therapy is condemned by Costa Rica's official mental health associations: the Costa Rican Association of Psychiatry (La Asociación Costarricense de Psiquiatría) and the College of Professionals in Psychology of Costa Rica (Colegio de Profesionales en Psicología de Costa Rica).

According to the report, a reporter involved in the undercover project posed as a straight married woman who had become involved in an extra-marital relationship with a woman. She reached out to Enfoque a la Familia, Costa Rica's arm of Focus on the Family, through the organization's website seeking help. She found a psychologist listed on the site, and booked and paid for an online therapy appointment.

Another reporter went to Exodus Latinoamérica, Exodus Global Alliance's group, posing as a young gay man. He was referred to Metanoia Minister, a local religious group. A therapist through that group offers "therapy" sessions paid in cash.

In a phone call, an undercover reporter was told by a psychologist, "nobody is born homosexual because only a sadistic God would forbid this sin in the Bible and, at the same time, create you like that," according to the report.

These were two of many instances that discovered conversion therapy was alive and well in Costa Rica, the report noted. The reporters documented therapists comparing sexual orientation and gender identity to substance abuse, sexual abuse, porn, defecation, and parental sin among some of their claims and reasons for being gay, according to the report.

The therapists contacted by the reporters were certified by the Costa Rican Association of Psychiatry.

Enrique Sánchez, Costa Rica's first openly gay lawmaker, has asked for President Carolos Alvarado Quesada to prioritize his bill to ban conversion therapy, according to the report. He hopes there will be a vote on the bill before the country's general elections in February.

Costa Rican lawmaker José María Villalta introduced a bill to Congress in 2018 to ban licensed professionals from practicing conversion therapy. Evangelical political parties have stalled the bill's progress in parliament, according to the report.

LGBTQ activists are not hopeful that the latest bill will solve the problem. They believe Focus on the Family and Exodus Global Alliance will find loopholes.

"If I listen to 10 teenagers per month, eight tell me they were taken to or were offered [conversion sessions at churches] or were told by their mothers: 'We're going to do this,'" Shi Alarcón, a sociologist and sexual diversity activist for Casa Rara, an LGBTQ youth support group in Costa Rica, told LGBTQ Nation.

She said teenagers are being subjected to the traumatic torture at alarming rates and conversion therapy camps are expanding across Costa Rica.

Alarcón called for lawmakers to expand Costa Rica's hate crimes laws to include conversion therapy and to stop calling the practice "therapy," the media outlet reported.

In a separate report released on the same date, Open Democracy uncovered Focus on the Family and the Exodus Global Alliance operating in states within the United States that restricted the practice of conversion therapy.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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