NationalOpinion

Conversion therapy controversy shows we need to do better

The LCC's open letter reveals a great deal of what we've missed in dealing with queerphobia

I never thought I’d see an actual school organization publicly endorse conversion therapy, but the Lutheran Church of Canada’s ABCD (Alberta British Columbia District) decided to prove me wrong.

It wasn’t even some low-key moment where they coughed to cover up what they were saying; it was a publicly posted letter to Minister of Education David Eggen that supported “psychological reparative therapy,” more commonly known as conversion therapy. For those who don’t know, conversion therapy is any variant of punishing children for queer/trans behaviours until the children stop performing those behaviours. It’s for all intents and purposes child-abuse, and was first banned in Ontario and in Manitoba in 2015.  

Previously, I wrote about how the focus on bathroom rights had narrowed the conversation about how to support trans youth, and this is a similar issue. We, as a society, had become so focused on the “do we let kids have GSAs” conversation (spoiler alert, we should) that we’d ignored a whole host of other issues related to queerphobia.

It’s fairly problematic and surprising that a bill to ban conversion therapy in Alberta only surfaces now as we hear what the LCC is doing, when not only was this letter sent to Eggen back in 2016, but Ontario and Manitoba had already done so. You would think that the Alberta NDP, with all their rhetoric around supporting LGBTQ2S+ youth in Alberta, would have already done something as simple as banning a prevalent and known form of abusing queer youth.

The most horrific part of all this is that the LCC’s ABCD contains 13 listed schools, of which two are kindergarten-to-grade 9, seven are preschools, three are nurseries, and one is a kindergarten. These are all young kids who are even more vulnerable than teenagers and young adults to this kind of abuse. Imagine a young child who’s exploring their identity coming out to some friends or family, and the consequence is that they end up in prolonged bouts of “corrective therapy.” Regardless if the kid is actually queer or not, teaching children to hate and avoid certain behaviours is harmful, and doing so at such a young age is extremely damaging to their formative years.

As Dr. Karen Hofmann, a board member with the Trans Equality Society of Alberta pointed out, all this teaches them is not to trust others, not to confide secrets lest they end up in abusive therapy. This either causes kids to “kill themselves or… actually leave their society.” Neither of these are good outcomes, and neither of these should be something we risk causing to children.

To prevent extreme cases like this, it’s important to call out poor school policies that are bad but not apocalyptic. It’s important to give kids a safe haven to support each other in avoiding or calling out these practices. It’s integral to recognize that this isn’t a one-off issue or rogue set of schools, but an endemic problem with our approach to queer and trans youth in Alberta that needs to change.

We need to be more supportive, we need to be more holistic in our support and advocacy, and we need to be more proactive in ensuring all children have a safe space to explore their identity.

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