Conversion ‘Therapy’: Canada Should Ban an Immoral Non-Scientific Practice

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

“If you believe there is a God, a God that made your body, and yet you think that you can do anything with that body that’s dirty, then the fault lies with the manufacturer.” — Lenny Bruce

Emerald Bensadoun in Global News published an article entitled “Canada just tabled legislation to ban conversion therapy. Why is it necessary in 2020?“ It’s a good query. The more fundamental question, “Was it ever necessary?” As it is not a scientific construct, as such, but, more akin, to the idea of sexual addict or sex addiction, by analogy, this comes to the idea in an extensive discussion with Dr. Darrel Ray of the Secular Therapy Project and Recovering From Religion.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5 or the DSM-5 is the standard by which mental disorders are catalogued and given proper psychological reference at this time. Its last update was in 2013. The sexual addiction label was rejected in 2013 in spite of the proposal for inclusion seven years ago. The DSM-5/DSM-V does not incorporate “sex addict” or “sexual addiction” in itself. Thus, as Dr. Ray noted, to me, the idea of the psychological construct of sexual addiction is false or pseudoscience with the idea, in fact, extant as a theological construct within Christian counselling presented as if a psychological construct.

“There’s tons of evidence that the most religious people self-identify the most as ‘sex addicts.’ Not to mind, there is no such thing as sex addiction. There’s no way to define it. I have argued with atheists that have been atheists for 20 years who say that they are sex addicts. Help me understand, how did you get that diagnosis?… I do not care if you look at porn once or twice an hour. You are still not a sex addict. So, get over that,” Dr. Ray stated, “You may have other issues. You may have some compulsions. You may have some fear of driving the issue. But it almost always comes down to early childhood religious training… Sometimes, you can go an entire lifetime with a guilt, a shame, a fear, rooted in religion.”

When I reflect on the literal non-sense, lack of sense or empirical-based evidence, for conversion therapy, it breaks my heart. Why should non-heterosexual peoples have to be subjected to the non-scientific whims of the popular religious culture or the sub-culture of the religious devoted to the immoral practice of conversion therapy? The Government of Canada introduced legislation for the amendment of the Criminal Code in order to ban conversion therapy, which becomes a victory for the LGBTI [Ed. Terminology based on the LGBTI Core Group from the United Nations.] community in Canada, in part.

In fact, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti, stated, “Conversion therapy is a cruel practice that can lead to life-long trauma, particularly for young people… It sends a demeaning and degrading message… [and] is premised on a lie.” This is important in its being candid. This is a point of unification of purpose for both the scientific skeptic and the humanist communities based on their core values because of the violation of proper science in therapeutic practice and the violation of fundamental human rights, respectively.

Five new offences would be added to the Criminal Code, including “causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy, removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad, causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will, profiting from providing conversion therapy and advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy.”

Bensadoun reported that the legislation would permit courts to seize advertisements of conversion therapy or to “order those who placed the advertisements to remove them.” This lattermost point may be a point of contention more than the others with freedom of expression and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now, if the bill becomes a law, Lametti stipulated that the law — with the five incorporative offences — would become the singular comprehensive and progressive legislation in the world on the banishment and punishment of the practice of an immoral and non-scientific practice. Indeed, this has been a Liberal campaign promise. Their website states:

Conversion therapy is a scientifically discredited practice that targets vulnerable LGBTQ2 Canadians in an attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. There is international consensus in the medical community that conversion therapy is not founded in science and does not work.

To ensure that no one is subjected to this practice, we will move forward on our promise to work with provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada, including making amendments to the Criminal Code that will prohibit this harmful and scientifically disproven practice, especially against minors.

Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, as provinces, have banned conversion therapy; Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, as cities, have as well. Manitoba made a statement against the practices. Thusly, this is the tide of national history with much inertia, where the vector is more towards this federal ban rather than not.

The whole point or purpose of conversion therapy is to make a non-heterosexual person homosexual. Without empirical support for these therapies en masse, we come to the basic premise of a faith-based practice, which comes down to a religious orientation or perspective, thusly measured alongside “sexual addiction” a la Dr. Darrel Ray. In that, this pretends to premise itself, as a ‘therapeutic’ practice upon a psychological construct; whereas, in truth, this comes from a theological seeming or faith-based ideological idea of non-heterosexuality as a “lifestyle,” as something non-nativist or innate in which the sexual orientation of the person is a choice.

It seems like no accident that one of the communities’ victims reported comes from Langley, British Columbia, Canada, in the article by Bensadoun, where the infamous fundamentalist Evangelical Christian Trinity Western University is hosted; the largest private university in Canada. Apparently, The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) released a report arguing for conversion therapy as more prevalent in Canada than thought before. One of the “harrowing accounts” is of “Canadian Harper Perrin, who staved off efforts to change their social [sic] orientation at a church in Langely [sic], B.C.” Perrin reported on the attempts to change the ways in which they “walked and talked, making them very mindful of their body and making sure they lived a ‘masculine expression.’”

All this is perfectly clownish and silly, and degrading, except for the fact that this is truly happening rather than in some comic book or piece of fiction. People who I know and love — and I’m sure for most of you reading this it’s the same context — suffering or being unduly discriminated based on false notions and quack practitioners of faith-driven non-science. Bensadoun stated, “Faith-based organizations like the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (formerly known as NARTH) still exist in Canada, and a majority of them have offices that operate in multiple provinces. It provides ‘Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy,’ ironically abbreviated ‘SAFE-T.’”

In some other previous interviews, I have come across the stories of suffering, sometimes of triumph. Take, for example, the case of Peter Gajdics who is an award-winning writer. He published The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir in May of 2017. His “triumph” came from speaking a truth in public deemed uncomfortable. It probably saved his life. He was subdued and subjected to a 6-year ordeal of conversion therapy in one of the provinces unlisted within the conversion therapy ban provinces (“Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island”), which, in context, is one of the unusual ones. Vancouver City banned it; British Columbia did not. Although, the far West coast of Canada, to some, is seen as a highly progressive portion of the country in spite of some of its Bible Belt.

Gajdics, in an interview with him entitled “Author Peter Gajdics on Conversion Therapy,” provided a succinct statement as to the ideational constructs undergirding “conversion therapy” and its associated falsities:

“Conversion therapy,” also known as “reparative therapy” or even “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), really took hold in direct response to the burgeoning gay rights movement of the early 1970’s, particularly after the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to declassify homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As gay liberation exploded over the next several years and gay people carved out their own place in history, taking great strides toward visibility and self-worth, in some cases legal vindication, the religious right advanced its own ideology of being “ex-gay” — that it was possible to sort of “pray away the gay.” Personally, I don’t really like this term, “pray away the gay,” since I think it reduces what is actually a traumatic experience to the sound of a joke, and the process of attempting to strip away a person’s core self and “convert” them into something that they’re not is anything but humorous: lives have been destroyed and even lost in the name of this kind of ignorance and outright hatred. Ultimately, there was nothing new to any of this; what we call “homosexuals” or even “gay” people today have been victims to all sorts of strange methods and ideologies to help “change” them, or at least to help conceal them, over the centuries. In the 20th century alone we’ve seen aversion therapy, castrations and lobotomies, inhumane use of psychotropics, and of course forced psychoanalysis as a common “cure.”

“Inhumane” seems like the coda to this long, long history of injustices carried forward by faith-based standards of thoughts and cultural thrust. Bensadoun’s article covers some more cases and organizations relevant to this subject matter for those interested.

Canada, if it moves forward with the transition of the bill into a law, can become a comprehensive and progressive core global leader in these efforts of the advancement of empirically-informed public policy and the protection of the fundamental human rights of LGBTI people in our society.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.

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