Canada banned conversion therapy, effective January 7, 2022. What does this ban mean to me?
OPINION | The views expressed in this article are those of the author.
The issue of conversion therapy is of paramount importance to me. I have spent more than a decade addressing Muslim homophobia and building the case for Muslim same-sex unions.
In 2005, when I gingerly broached the issue of homosexuality in an Islamic magazine, I was met with stiff resistance. To date, the Muslim position remains that acting upon same-sex desires constitutes a major sin. And justifying same-sex unions is tantamount to apostasy, which under classical interpretations of Islam merits the death punishment in an Islamic state. Such opinions continue to be advocated on the Muslims in Calgary website as part of normative Islam.
It took me more than a decade to create Islamic scholarship that affirms gay Muslims. Back in 2005, there weren’t many resources for LGBTQ Muslims. I came across Rabbi Emeritus Gershom Barnard’s article that was later replaced by the Conservative Jewish affirmation of same-sex unions. He had written:
[I]n my lifetime, medical opinion has changed from treating homosexuals with hormones, to treating them with psychoanalysis, to treating them with behavioral conditioning, to saying that there is no treatment, indeed, that there is nothing to treat.
However, several LGBTQ Muslim youth, who discover themselves at a young age, are either morally persuaded or willingly consider conversion therapy to deal with the cognitive dissonance they feel between their sexuality and their faith, as it is presented to them. They also become susceptible to homelessness, substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and suicide attempts.
In working on my 2016 paper that critiqued conversion therapy in Islam, I came across the testimonies of several Muslim teenagers who expressed extreme discomfort with their sexual orientation. One felt that fasting had not helped in controlling his desires. Another expressed that she couldn’t eat or sleep. And yet another wanted to commit suicide.
For my paper, I referenced the exhaustive 2009 task force report of the American Psychological Association (APA) on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which clearly indicates that there is no scientific evidence for any long-term success of conversion therapy. Based on a comprehensive survey of the literature, it confirms that the negative impact of conversion therapy include depression, hopelessness, loss of faith, deteriorated relationships with family, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, self-hatred, sexual dysfunction, suicidal ideation, feelings of being dehumanized, increase in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behaviours.
For me, this work is a labour of love. I do not charge any money for the gazillion community presentations, keynote addresses, interfaith marriages, media articles, community work and the “Allah Loves Us All” videos that promote an Inclusive Islam.
If anything, I have paid a steep personal price for all this work. I must be careful of hateful messages and travel plans. And my Economics research and Associate Professor ambitions have been delayed.
The painstaking scholarship led me to volunteer for Alberta’s Conversion Therapy Working Group. The Group was tasked with coming up with a robust position to ban this harmful practice in Alberta. Unfortunately and unceremoniously, the UCP government disbanded the group with no further indication of where the province stands on this issue.
Canada has now banned conversion therapy and related conduct under the Criminal Code. I am hopeful this change in law will send a strong message that Canada stands by vulnerable youth by rejecting conversion therapy. However, I think there is much more work to be done, especially by religious groups, to ensure this unscientific practice causes no further harm.
As the Prophet of Islam taught: la darar wa ladirar (do no harm and accept no harm).
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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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