A political battle over conversion therapy is brewing both at the legislature and across Alberta, and Calgary Pride is taking the issue to city hall, urging council to ban conversion therapy locally.
“This is an active practice in the city and we need to put an end to it,” Calgary Pride board president Shone Thistle said. “We know this from reputable, registered psychologists and therapists who are helping treat and repair the damage done by this practice.”
While conversion therapy can take many forms, it all boils down to trying to change a person’s sexual orientation to straight.
“It’s incredibly damaging to the psyche,” Thistle added. “It increases the risk of suicide, self-harm and also creates spaces where other people who aren’t even involved in the practice feel like they don’t belong.”
Calgary Pride is asking people to write to their ward councillor in support of a ban.
Thistle said the group is being proactive, concerned the committee appointed to research an Alberta-wide ban may be disbanded.
Future of potential provincial ban unclear
Dozens of people gathered on the steps of legislature in Edmonton on Thursday, calling on the UCP to allow a group studying a ban on conversion therapy to continue.
“Let the working group continue, fund them, provide the resources, take the recommendations, implement and lead the world in protecting queer youth,” said protester Pirate Jen Takahashi, who also works with the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group.
The working group tasked with studying conversion therapy is led by Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Nicole Goehring, and was created under the NDP provincial government. Its aim is to complete five months of research before presenting recommendations to the province.
Since the UCP was elected in April, the committee’s future has been murky.
In a statement to Global News, Goehring said Health Minister Tyler Shandro disbanded the committee in late May. Shandro is expected to give his decision on the future of the group on Friday.
“I am hoping we hear that the critical work of the group will continue, that it will be supported through the Department of Health, and the minister is committed to implementing the recommendations, once submitted,” Goehring said. “Members of the LGBTQ2S+ community deserve a government that is looking out for them.”
Shandro said the UCP government is opposed to conversion therapy and willing to work with the committee.
“The issue is not the previous government’s working group but the welfare of people struggling with issues around gender identity,” Shandro said in an emailed statement. “If any Albertan wants to recommend measures we can take as a government to prevent conversion therapy from occurring, I will give them my full attention and consideration.”
He urges any Albertan who with a concern that conversion therapy is occurring to contact to the proper authority, like a school board, Children’s Services, College of Physicians or the province itself.
Four other provinces have at least partially outlawed conversion therapy. In Ontario, it’s illegal. In Nova Scotia, health professionals cannot provide conversion therapy for minors. In Manitoba, no health professional can provide conversion therapy to anyone. British Columbia is looking into a similar ban to Nova Scotia, barring conversion therapy for minors. Vancouver has banned private businesses from offering it.