Vancouver, Canada, Bans Conversion Therapy

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On June 6, 2018, City Council in my hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, unanimously approved a motion to ban conversion therapy in the city limits, making Vancouver the first city in Canada to pass such a law. I was one of three speakers who appeared in-chambers and addressed Council in support of this ban. In five brief minutes I detailed my history with this “therapy” and my reasons for approaching the city’s LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee in 2017 with a recommendation for some kind of public statement denouncing these treatments, or better yet, an outright ban. I was thrilled when the Committee invited me to help them draft the motion that was later approved and submitted to Council for consideration. “Conversion therapy is a problem of ideology,” I told Council on June 6, “not nationality”—so Canada must do its own part in preventing these treatments from continuing. Legal bans are an important step forward.

I have written elsewhere about my frustration around the city’s delay in considering this ban, but I have to say how proud I felt when several Councillors voiced their shock that these “pseudo-scientific therapies” are continuing at all, with anyone, anywhere. When I first approached the Committee last year, I had sincerely hoped a ban in Vancouver would be for all, adults and minors alike, since experience has taught me that even adults can fall prey to these forms of institutionalized hatred, which are every bit as harmful no matter what the person’s age. I was disappointed to learn, only a few days before Council’s meeting, that the motion had been rewritten to cover only minors, although, again, the fact that the motion was even being advanced seemed promising. All this to say that when one Councillor suddenly introduced an amendment so that the motion would ban conversion therapy “outright”—not only for minors but also for adults—I almost burst into tears. “This is a fraudulent practice,” another Councillor stated. “Not only is it cruel and dangerous, it’s fraudulent, so legally, we should be fine in preventing it happening to anyone.” At no time during the two-year complaint against my former psychiatrist through the College of Physicians and Surgeons, nor the four-year medical malpractice suit I filed against the doctor, did I feel so vindicated as when I heard these Councillors voice this kind of unequivocal support.

The City’s motion on conversion therapy is available to view on-line. Maclean’s published my Op-Ed on the topic that same day. PBS NewsHour covered the story, as did CBC, 1130 News, The Georgia Straight, and The Star Vancouver (among others).

When people talk to me about “moving on” in life and “not looking back,” I often wonder if what they’re really saying is they want me to be happy, and they just don’t know how I could ever be happy when past trauma, like with what I experienced in this treatment, still seems to impact my life today. Their comments seem to suggest that I am perpetuating the trauma by facing it square-on—talking or writing about it continuously—rather than by turning away in an attempt to save myself more suffering, “the memory of it all.” I understand these sentiments. I think we all, on some level, simply want to be happy. No one chooses to be traumatized; but when our bodies and internal sense of self are violated, shattered seemingly beyond repair as a result of some kind of incommensurable trauma, and struggling afterward even with the daily tasks of shopping, cooking, and feeding ourselves, not to mention holding down a job and caring for loved ones—when faced with the very real impact and devastation of trauma on our daily lives, I really do believe that conscious recognition of what we’ve lived through and survived helps us to heal. The act of “healing,” of course, is ongoing; there will likely never come one final moment when we return to who we were “before.” Healing is a deliberate act of agency; we may need to nurse ourselves to this end in perpetuity. We certainly do not heal by turning away and betraying our past, but, I think, by embracing, with compassion, what we’ve survived. When we see ourselves, wholly, we recognize others; when we’re blind to our own suffering, anyone else’s becomes intolerable.

To be heard and recognized by our government officials is a deeply meaningful, and healing, experience.