LGBTQ advocates applaud effort to ban conversion therapy in Alberta

LGBTQ advocates commend the NDP government for taking steps toward banning conversion therapy, which experts say is an outdated, ineffective and dangerous practice.

MLA Nicole Goehring set to introduce a private members bill banning controversial practice

An Alberta MLA hopes to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy in the province.

LGBTQ advocates commend the NDP government for taking steps toward banning conversion therapy, which experts say is an outdated, ineffective and dangerous practice.

"It is a gesture of solidarity and it is making a statement that we are not just paying lip service to the queer community, we are actually here to fight for them and to protect them," said Pirate Jen Takahashi, a spokesperson for the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group.

Edmonton MLA Nicole Goehring is in the process of drafting a private member's bill to be introduced this fall. But she said at this point there are no details about what the ban would look like.

"We heard loud and clear from the LGBTQ+ community, families, advocates, leadership from faith communities that this is something that they want, " said Goehring.

"And we want it to stop because we know that banning it ultimately could save lives."

Widely-discredited practice

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is designed to "cure" children and adults from being gay. It's an effort often associated with religious practices.

The same term is used to describe attempts to reverse the gender identity of a child to prevent them from growing up as transgender.

It's a widely-discredited practice that attempts to change a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification and even medication.

Experts say it involves a wide range of interventions from electro-shock therapy to changing one's clothing or mannerisms.

"And it can do great harm and damage particularly to children and youth," said ​Dr. Kristopher Wells, an associate professor in the faculty of health and community studies at MacEwan University.

Dr. Kris Wells says LGBTQ conversion therapy is harmful. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Wells said it still occurs in Alberta, but often it's underground and under different names, which may make it a more difficult practice to curtail.

"Well you make it clear that it's illegal and if people are engaging in this behaviour then they should be reported and should be dealt with, with the full force of the law" said Wells.

James Demers remembers being confused as a child. His parents forced him to see several counsellors over six years to try to teach him that being gay was wrong.

"That was the overall feeling, right, like something was wrong and this was why I had to be in therapy. And the wrongness was my queerness but there wasn't anything I could do about that because there wasn't anything wrong with me. It was this infuriating cycle," said Demers, who is now a queer advocate.

James Demers was forced to see counsellors as a child. His parents hoped to convince him his queerness was wrong. (CBC)

"It was more just sort of like you're an embarrassment to your parents and aren't you upset about that I think was the most obnoxious part."

Demers believes implementing a ban will make a difference.

"It allows for a level of protection for LGBT kids in places where activists like myself can't actually reach."

Demers points to smaller communities, where there aren't a lot of resources.

Goehring said Alberta would follow the lead of Manitoba and Ontario, where bans have already been implemented. 
Nova Scotia is considering one as well.

"My understanding of what the ban in Ontario looks like is that the practitioners can't bill for it, so that's definitely something that we're looking into when we're working on the language."


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.