British Columbia

Vancouver to ban businesses offering conversion therapy

A man who lived through the widely discredited treatment designed to change a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity says it's a "victorious" day to see the ban approved.

Unanimous motion could lead to ban by end of summer, councillor says

A LGBTQ+ pride rainbow flag and a trans pride flag flying next to each other.
The Pride flag and Trans flag fly outside of Vancouver City Hall where city council voted to ban the practice of conversion therapy. (CBC)

The City of Vancouver is banning any businesses that provide so-called "conversion therapy."

A motion passed unanimously at Wednesday's council meeting adds "the business of providing conversion therapy to minors" to Vancouver's business prohibition bylaw.

"The Council of the City of Vancouver is strongly committed to supporting the equality and human rights of the LGBTQ2+ community and all city residents," the motion, moved by Coun. Tim Stevenson read.

Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice of attempting to change a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification and even medication.

It is already illegal to provide the so-called treatment to minors in Ontario, Manitoba and the European Union and Wednesday's council motion noted opposition to the practice from groups like the World Health Organization and the Canadian Psychological Association.

City councillors voted unanimously to ban the practice of conversion therapy. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

The motion originally only banned conversion therapy for minors but an amendment by Coun. George Affleck expanded it to people of all ages.

Affleck says any religious group that needs a business licence will also be covered by the ban.

Staff, he says, will draft a bylaw to put the ban into force within a few months.

'I'm just elated'

Conversion therapy is often linked to religious groups but can be rooted in non-religious psychiatry and psychology.

Many professional medical and mental health organizations oppose the practice of sexual orientation change therapy because studies have not shown it to be effective and have shown it can cause psychological harm.

Vancouver resident Peter Gajdics, 53, knows about the harm all too well.

Peter Gajdics wrote about his six years in conversion therapy in his memoir, The Inheritance of Shame. (CBC)

He spent six years in conversion therapy in Victoria during the 1980s and '90s.

He wrote a memoir about his experiences and spoke at Wednesday's council meeting in favour of the ban.

"It was victorious," Gajdics said. "I almost burst into tears, actually. I'm just elated."

Gajdics says his ordeal began when he came out as gay to his family in his 20s. They took him to a psychiatrist.

"I was just in shock and depressed," he said. "He told me it was my homosexuality that needed to be cured. Corrected, as he put it."

Gajdics says that "correction" involved escalating doses of psychiatric medicine, injections with ketamine, "re-parenting sessions" and other dubious methods.

Expert says therapy is hush-hush

Elizabeth Saewyc, professor and director of the UBC School of Nursing, says "it's not uncommon" for her to be approached by parents with LGBTQ kids who want their kids to get into conversion therapy.

"Unfortunately, changing sexual orientation is not going to be a successful route," Saewyc told On The Coast guest host Angela Sterritt. "And the harms that go along with trying to do that make it really unwise to do so."

Saewyc says it's hard to know how prevalent conversion therapy is in B.C., because it's mostly advertised through word of mouth. Medical professionals rarely offer it these days, and it's mostly provided by faith-informed practitioners.

She says the goal of the therapy is to increase negative attitudes, guilt and shame about the person's sexuality.

"This creates a real conflict," she said. "That kind of distress, both emotional and psychological, that can lead to depression. It can lead to even things like suicidality."

Saewyc says the focus of reputable professionals is to show parents how to better support their kids and be more nurturing and accepting.

Listen to the full interview with Elizabeth Saewyc:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast