By: Katie Hemion, Staff Writer
In June 2018, Vancouver became the first Canadian city to ban “conversion therapy.” Now, SFU’s Out On Campus is pushing for more: a complete ban on “conversion therapy” throughout Canada. The Simon Fraser Student Society, with a push from Ashley Brooks of Out on Campus, put out a statement calling for a nation-wide ban on conversion therapy in August of 2019. As reported previously by The Peak, the SFSS board discussed taking this step in July 2019. Notably, there has recently been a wave of public support for this kind of ban, including a petition on change.org
What is “conversion therapy”?
“Conversion therapy,” sometimes known as “reparative therapy” or “the ex-gay movement,” refers to methods employed in order to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Historically, conversion therapy has included a myriad of pseudoscientific approaches to changing individuals’ identities, including lobotomies, electroshock aversion therapy, and chemical castration. Today, even though it is not backed by any major science or health professionals, practices may involve encouraging victims to engage only in traditionally gendered activities, one-on-one counselling, spiritual intervention, or aversion therapy, in which the person is subject to the ‘unwanted’ stimulus while being subject to some kind of discomfort simultaneously, among other means.
Studies have shown that conversion therapy is evidently detrimental to its victims. Young survivors are at significantly higher risk of depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse, and contraction of STIs. In a Beyond Ex-Gay survey, 84% of survivors reported that they are “still affected by the harm” caused by conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy discussion at SFU
Though the practice is banned in Manitoba, and in Ontario and Nova Scotia for minors, the current Criminal Code of Canada does not address the practice of conversion therapy as a federal crime, leaving many LGBTQ2+ youth vulnerable across the nation. In early August, the BC Ministry of Health called on Canada’s minister of justice to make conversion therapy illegal federally. This letter is part of a larger movement to end the harm caused by often traumatizing practices.
Days after this letter was released, on August 8 Ashley Brooks, Out On Campus coordinator, brought a statement to the SFSS board of directors meeting. The SFSS board passed a motion at this meeting to make a public statement advocating for a nationwide ban on conversion therapy.
One thing stressed by Brooks is that it is important to bring awareness to this issue, because it often goes unreported. He pointed out that the difficulty in bringing awareness of conversion therapy to SFU is that it continues to be “a largely underground practice inflicted on often invisible communities.” It is a widespread movement to stifle a range of non-heterosexual, transgender, and non-binary identities. This then becomes a problem for scientific researchers, as LGBTQ2+ people can be difficult to find due to a lack of disclosure.
The practice of conversion therapy often works to isolate LGBTQ2+ young people from people like them. In talking with Brooks, he suggested that the “best way you can resist this is to embed yourself in your chosen queer family who will love and value you for who you are.”
Out On Campus is a safe space for all LGBTQ2+ people, and can be found in TC 314-N from 10 a..m – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.