With Parliament’s swift passing of Bill C-4 criminalizing conversion therapy, January 2022 has been a historic time in the fight for Canadian 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, according to advocates.
Queer members and allies of the Algonquin College community are feeling validated and hopeful.
Conversion therapy targets individuals who do not identify as heterosexual or cisgender and disapproves any gendered behaviours that do not align with a person’s assigned sex at birth.
No Conversion Canada, a coalition dedicated to ending conversion therapy and practices, says any form of treatment designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is “unscientific,” “unethical,” “fraudulent” and “dangerously harmful.”
“This type of cruel abuse has no place here in Canada,” the organization’s website states.
As of Jan. 7, 2022, subjecting anyone of any age to conversion therapy, whether they are consenting or not, is punishable by law for up to five years in prison.
Harley Wagner, a graduate of the esthetician program at Algonquin College, identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. “Immensely relieving,” were the words Wagner used to describe the ban.
“So much pain has come from the practice,” they said. “The fact that no one will have to suffer through that again in this country is such a wonderful feeling.”
“That being said though,” Wagner added, “I also feel angry that it took this long to be made illegal in the first place. The fact that it is 2022 and this is only happening now is outrageous, and it is something we as queer people need to be mindful of. I encourage everyone to look into who exactly made this change so hard.”
According to Wagner, “conversion therapy perpetuates the idea that queer and trans identities are something to be ashamed of, rather than a beautiful way of being. The idea that queerness can be cured in the first place is completely false.”
Wagner said they stumbled upon a UCLA article chronicling the suicide rates of queer folks who have undergone conversion therapy and the numbers are heartbreaking.
“Conversion therapy kills and those who survive are left with lifelong, serious mental health issues,” they said.
Ashley Dawn uses she/they pronouns and identifies as two-spirit and bisexual. She said she needed the ban on conversion therapy to feel safe.
Dawn grew up near Trinity Western University, whose law school’s “community covenant” forbade sex outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
“Punishments for breaking the rules included being sent to anti-gay therapy, or even being expelled,” said Dawn. “I think if this bill was around when I was in high school I probably would have felt safer to come out. I didn’t tell anyone I was queer as a teenager because it didn’t feel safe.”
Quinn Blue, the coordinator of the Wellness and Equity Centre at Algonquin College, was excited and relieved when he heard this news. “It was a long time coming,” he said.
“I am very impressed and grateful for the work others have done to advocate for this law, and for the survivors who shared their stories to prevent this from happening to other people.”
Blue was surprised by how quickly and unanimously Bill C-4 was passed. “I think that preventing traumatic experiences for people is not a partisan issue though, so it was really exciting to see all parties be on board this time around.”
“Not only is there nothing wrong with being 2SLGBTQIA+,” said Blue, “but also any efforts to change people’s gender or sexual orientation simply don’t work.” It is absolutely essential, he said, that people of any age are not subjected to harmful attempts to change something about them that cannot be changed.
As stated in a news release from the Department of Justice Canada: “Everyone should be able to live a true and authentic life, free from violence and discrimination, no matter who they are or who they love.”
Looking ahead, the banning of conversion therapy supports the government’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.
“I think that while we cannot change the past, we can be really excited about the future moving forward, and I’m so glad that it’s happened now,” Blue said.
“2SLGBTQIA+ individuals do not need curing. Not only shouldn’t they change, but also they can’t.”