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Yukon LGBTQ students prepare petition, lobby for change in 'conversion therapy' law

Some students in Whitehorse are hoping to spark a change in Yukon law, in their words to support LGBTQ youth. They are calling on the Yukon government to ban what is called 'conversion' or 'restorative' therapy applied to minors.

Students want practice of 'conversion therapy' forbidden on minors, joining national campaign

Mercedes Bacon-Traplin, in Grade 12, says 'there's nothing to protect the vulnerable LGBTQ youth' from conversion therapy under current Canadian law. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A group of students in Whitehorse are hoping to spur change in Yukon law in support of LGBTQ youth. 

They're preparing a petition that would call on the Yukon government to ban "conversion" or "restorative" therapy for minors. 

"Conversion therapy" is the widely-discredited practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling, behaviour modification or medication. It's based on the premise that being gay or trans is abnormal and can be "cured." The Canadian Psychological Association has condemned the practice.

The practice is not banned in Canadian law. The Yukon students' campaign comes as a larger national petition is making its way toward Parliament.

Students also say they have been inspired by Canadian actress and producer Ellen Page, who raised the issue in recent weeks.

Students, teachers and Takhini Kopper-King MLA Kate White carry petition forms at Porter Creek Secondary School's Rainbow Room on March 6. The school's Gender Sexuality Alliance is joining another at F.H. Collins Secondary School and a campaign across Canada in standing against so-called 'conversion therapy.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)
 

Yukon students call for change 

The students' petition would ask the Yukon government to forbid conversion therapy, calling it a human rights issue.

It would also urge the government to prohibit transporting minors outside of Yukon or Canada for such treatment.

The wording has not yet been legally tested. 

Mercedes Bacon-Traplin is the Grade 12 student leading the campaign. She said she doesn't know if the practice occurrs in Yukon, but said a measure would be important.

"We've had gay marriage in Canada for years. We see ourselves as this free country of equal rights and we've moved so far — and yet I feel we still have this piece of a very dark past, in which a lot of people suffered," she said.

Grey Capot-Blanc, in Grade 11, agrees.

"Trying to change someone for who they are is not right in my opinion. So doing this would be a help for a lot of people especially if they're still in the closet. They want to be free to be themselves," he said.

Students have been working on posters to decorate their school's Rainbow Room as they begin their campaign. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Rainbow Room at the school 

Students have already created change within their school. As of last week Porter Creek Secondary School has what is called the Rainbow Room. 

The classroom provides space for the Gender Sexuality Alliance to meet.

On March 6 over a pizza lunch, students prepared posters and finalized the exact wording of their petition.

Yukon MLA Kate White was also invited to visit and explain how petitions work. 

The Rainbow Room at Porter Creek Secondary School includes a wall of heroes including Alan Turing, a famous English mathematician subjected to conversion therapy in the 1950s who later died by suicide according to a coroner's report at the time. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Adrian Barber, in Grade 11 supports the petition. 

"It's an interesting feeling," of campaigning and getting to know the democratic process, he said. "You have the possibility to do so much change, and knowing that you can do that is really empowering. Just having the ability to help so many people, and just make things safer and better for people."

The students' petition has yet to be introduced to the legislative assembly. 

The next sitting of the legislative assembly starts this week and runs until April.

White has said she will table the petition, which would require a government response.

Students discuss the wording of their petition on March 6. Ursula Westfall, in Grade 11 (centre, in rainbow hoodie) says it's 'very exciting to be talking to the government about something like this,' and is learning how petitions and Yukon's democratic processes work. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

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