An Edmonton MLA is preparing a private member’s bill that would effectively ban conversion therapy to change a person’s sexual orientation.
Ontario was the first province in Canada to introduce this kind of legislation, and Nova Scotia is also looking at introducing the same sort of legislation.
“Conversion therapy is a form of therapy that would take an LGBTQ+ person and try to change them from not being part of that community anymore,” Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Nicole Goehring told Danielle Smith on 770 CHQR. “It can be done in many forms, in my understanding.”
LISTEN: MLA Nicole Goehring joins Danielle Smith to discuss putting together the bill to ban gay conversion therapy
“In over 100 years of research in the field of psychology, there has never been a report that says conversion therapy is successful,” Dr. Kevin Alderson, president-elect of the College of Alberta Psychologists and a counselling psychology professor at University of Calgary, told Global News. “It has been a dismal failure.”
Members of the LGBTQ community, families, advocates and religious leaders have brought their concerns to Goehring, who will be working with Health Minister Sarah Hoffman to draft the language and mechanisms of the bill.
LISTEN BELOW: Dr. Kristopher Wells speaks with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen about the bill
“At this point, the language is still being drafted. We’re still doing consultation, and I really want to make sure that I get it right and have a full understanding of what needs to be part of the language of this bill,” said Goehring.
“We want to make sure that we’re ending a discriminatory practice, focusing on saving lives and keeping people safe.”
Goehring said her work learning about post-traumatic stress disorder as the Government of Alberta’s liaison to the Canadian Armed Forces has informed her of the importance of this type of legislation.
“We know that it is harmful and causes trauma. I know that in my work with PTSD awareness, we‘ve heard that people that have gone through conversion therapy are traumatized. And this legislation could save lives,” she said.
Goehring expects to introduce the bill in legislature this fall.
Alderson said conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, has taken many forms, including electroshock aversion therapy and castration.
“They thought that they could shock the gay out of you. They found that to be a dismal failure. All that really happened from that is it made gay men feel very shameful and guilty,” he said.
“It did diminish their same-sex desire, but it did not result in a comitant increase in opposite-sex desire. So, in other words, we were making people temporarily asexual and feeling guilty about any sexuality that they did experience.”
Alderson said marriage under heterosexual pretence also isn’t effective.
“It’s really a mistake for gay people to get married to the opposite sex in hopes that that will cure them, because it doesn’t work that way. It just means, over time, they’re probably going to have a sexless marriage and it will be very frustrating for both the man and the woman. And the one who’s not gay or lesbian is going to wonder, ‘What is it I’m doing wrong?’
“It’s hard not to blame yourself for the fact your partner does not have any interest in you sexually.”
Alderson noted two main emotions that research shows are the result of conversion therapy.
“When we try to make people change against the way they seem to be built, shame and guilt are predominant emotions.”
Alderson also said that suppression or repression of unresolved psychological matters, like trying to consolidate attraction to members of the same sex while being in a community that condemns that behaviour, can have negative results on an individual.
“It’s so critical that we stop torturing the souls and psyches of not just children and adolescents, but of adults,” said Alderson, who also serves as the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
“We have to stop making people feel guilty about their growth as people that don’t fit the dominant culture’s norms regarding what one should be sexually and what one should be gender-wise. The big thing about conversion therapy is to make people feel bad about themselves. And that’s always a mistake in psychology,” he said.
“It would be better that people were to come to terms with their sexual identity and their gender identity at a younger age, so we can relieve the psychological suffering. And lest we never forget that when people are unable to accept themselves, it’s the leading cause of suicide.”
A simple online search does not turn up therapists working in Alberta to change a person’s sexual orientation.
“Good luck,” Alderson said. “You won’t find anyone who is advertising as a conversion therapist, regardless of whether they are a psychologist or some other kind of mental health counsellor, or whether they are pastoral counsellors, or whether they are lay people. No one advertises in Alberta as a conversion therapist, and I do believe what that speaks to is they don’t want the harassment that is going to come to them from so many different groups.”
Alderson said that while organizations like the Canadian Psychologists Association, the American Psychiatrists Association and the College of Alberta Psychologists categorically oppose conversion therapy, that doesn’t mean that no one in Alberta is providing these therapies.
“The sense that I’ve been able to get is the conversion therapists that do exist are generally within religious groups, and I have the sense that most of them are not likely psychologists. It’s more the philosophy of, ‘Let’s pray away the gay.’
“You would wonder who they are referring people to. And you would almost bet that they have someone — that they are not going leave their congregation… They must have someone they’re sending these people to.”