Scott Douglas Jacobsen

“If anyone in this audience believes God made his body and your body is dirty, 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 is: “Was it ever necessary?” As it is not supported by scientific evidence, as Dr. Darrel Ray of the Secular Therapy Project and Recovering from Religion suggests, it might be better thought of as analogous to sex addiction.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the standard by which mental disorders are catalogued and given proper psychological reference at this time. The latest edition was published in 2013. The sexual addiction label was rejected in 2013 in spite of the proposal for inclusion. The DSM-5 does not incorporate “sex addict” or “sexual addiction.” Thus, as Dr. Ray noted to me, his idea of sexual addiction is as a theological construct within Christian counselling, presented as if it were 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.” He further 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 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 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 offenses 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,” according to Global News.

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 point may be contentious more than the others with freedom of expression and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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 have banned conversion therapy; in other provinces, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, have as well. Manitoba made a statement against the practice. Thusly, this is the tide of national history with much inertia, where the vector is more towards this federal ban rather than not.

It seems like no accident that one of the communities’ victims comes from Langley, British Columbia, Canada, in the article by Bensadoun, where the infamous fundamentalist Trinity Western University is hosted: the largest private university in Canada. One of the accounts is of “Canadian Harper Perrin, who staved off efforts to change their social 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 — are suffering and are being unduly discriminated against, 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 I interviewed in 2018. He published The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir in May of 2017. His triumph came from publicly speaking a truth deemed uncomfortable. It probably saved his life. He was subdued and subjected to a 6-year ordeal of conversion therapy. Vancouver City banned it; British Columbia did not.

Gajdics 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 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.