I am a cisgender, straight woman. So, what does the ban on conversion therapy mean to me? A lot!
OPINION | The views expressed in this article are those of the author.
Given how I just identified myself, you may be wondering why I would be so supportive of something that is seemingly outside of my reality. Well … if one wonders that, one may not get the point of protecting human rights.
My personal – yet somewhat educated – interpretation of conversion therapy is that:
- It is a practice aimed at devaluing a person’s identity to replace it with one that is deemed acceptable only by a specific group of people.
- It causes great harm (mental as well as physical).
- Forcing someone to undergo conversion therapy is essentially attempting to erase that person.
- Banning this practice is a sign of respect for all humankind.
A lot of what we see on social media is the product of a lack of understanding or direct misinformation. Lately, I have seen people commenting how this law is pointless because conversion therapy is not happening in Canada. You do not have to conduct an extensive Google search to find studies and data to support the contrary: it is alive and well in our country. In a study recently published by the scientific journal PLOS one, 10% of respondents indicated they had experienced conversion therapy (that’s thousands of people) and, out of that number, 72% were under the age of 20.
My article is not meant to drown readers in a sea of statistics or discuss what conversion therapy is. CPLEA’s resources explain, in simple language, how the law protects those experiencing, and prosecutes those perpetuating, conversion therapy, so I won’t elaborate further.
My thought process
We often hear about the importance of being allies. And there are many “recipes” on how to become one. A recent conversation with a community organizer comes to mind. We discussed how difficult it is to mobilize our privilege when we cannot connect directly to the trauma experienced by others. To show empathy we have to imagine ourselves in a similar situation or having similar feelings. So, I decided to search within my own life experience.
My dip into the empathy well started with two simple questions:
- Has there ever been a time in my life when who I am was not acceptable?
- What happened if/when I listened to the voices telling me I had to change?
And my starting point revealed itself: Having been considered “overweight” all my life, pressures to conform to societal norms have come from many directions and sometimes even from trusted people who loved me. These pressures have resulted in self-hatred, self-harm, and years of recovery.
I am in no way equating my situation to the level of trauma experienced by people being denied the true expression of their gender or sexuality, but it gives me an empathetic lens to gain a better understanding. I can draw from my lived experience and past feelings to muster a modicum of imagination, enough to put myself in someone else’s shoes to generate empathy and support. It provides me with a tiny speck of solidarity. But a tiny speck is often all we need to move forward, to evolve, to become an ally, or, at the very least, get out of the way.
I identify as a woman. But not too long ago in Canada – right around the time my mother was born – the law did not recognize women as “persons”! In the 1970’s, my mother would not have been allowed to purchase a car without my father’s signature. (I can only imagine if my mother had been a lesbian, oh my!) But we have made gains, we have acquired rights, and – hopefully – we won’t have to go back to a time when being who we are is a problem or a disadvantage. Why would I support a society wanting to demonize a person’s identity when I myself benefit from laws that protect who I am?
Let’s get back to my original question: why would I care about banning conversion therapy?
Because I want to live in a society that respects people’s identity without denial, obstacles, or pain and suffering. I want to live in a society where human rights are more than a mere vehicle for free speech and truly protect the most vulnerable among us. And – admittedly, more selfishly – because when everyone’s rights are protected … my own are as well.
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The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
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