OPINION | Don't survey Yukoners about 'conversion therapy,' just ban it

There's lots to celebrate this Pride week, argues Lori Fox, but not the Yukon government's weak response to a petition against 'conversion therapy.'

Banning conversion therapy would affirm the legitimacy and personhood of queer and trans people, Lori Fox says

The pride and trans flags fly alongside the Canadian flag in front of Whitehorse city hall. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

It's Pride week in Yukon, and while the queer community has much to celebrate — including the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada — now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

In April, a group of Yukon high school students delivered a petition to the Legislature, requesting the government make so-called conversion "therapy" — the dubious practice of trying to "reprogram" LGBTQ+ folk into "regular" cis-gender heterosexuals, under the belief there is something inherently "wrong" with us — illegal in the territory.

Although strides are being made toward queer acceptance within religious communities, this cruel and dehumanizing "therapy" often has Christian affiliations. It is an especial concern for queer youth, who may be forced/coerced into it by a parent — see the recent films Boy, Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post — and where bans do exist in the U.S., they are often youth-specific.

The Yukon petition was met with a rather limp response by the territorial government.

Minister Jeanie Dendys, who is responsible for the Yukon Women's Directorate and under whom the government recently held a series of engagement talks with the LGBTQ2S community, is running a survey to "help inform Government of Yukon on the priorities of LGBTQ2S+ Yukoners," she said via email.

She said the survey is open to everyone and relies on self-reporting, although "answers to the survey from members of Yukon's LGBTQ2S+ communities will be weighted more than allies or those who do not identify as LGBTQ2S+."

The issue of conversion therapy was added to the survey as the result of the students' petition — that's as much response as it got.

Students, teachers and Takhini Kopper-King MLA Kate White carry petition forms at Porter Creek Secondary's Rainbow Room in March. The school's Gender Sexuality Alliance joined a national campaign to stand against so-called 'conversion therapy.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yukon youth — both queer and allies — came before the Legislature and said: Conversion therapy is a concern for us. Please protect us.

The government said: We'll put it to a general survey and see how everyone feels.

That's not the right response.

The Yukon government is against conversion therapy, Dendys says, because "the Canadian Psychological Association, American Psychological Association and World Health Organization all oppose [it]."

Those organizations have good reason for that position, as those who have undergone conversion therapy often suffer from mental health issues as a result.

The primary reason the Yukon government should be opposed to conversion therapy is because it dehumanizes queer and trans people, delegitimizes their right to exist and is a threat to their physical and mental well-being, especially for youth. And the government should say that.

Some have questioned whether or not the "therapy" is even practised in the territory, but that's not the point. The legal age of sexual consent in Canada is 16. We don't have that law in place because adults are having sex with 15-year-olds, but because we don't want them to be able to in the first place. We have determined that it's necessary to protect youth from that potential situation and created laws to enforce that.

Are queer youth not Yukon youth?

Crosswalks with the colours of the rainbow and transgender flags were painted in downtown Whitehorse in 2017. (Karen McColl/CBC)

LGBTQ2S+ rights across the country are under threat. Ontario has a minister of education who thinks transfolk are "liberal ideology" and the recently-elected Alberta UCP refuse to talk about banning conversion therapy altogether.

Complacency, within our own community and without, is one of the most powerful weapons used against us. The Yukon students who came forward with their petition understand this.

To truly include us, the government must see us not as queer first and people second, but as people who also happen to be queer. This means providing us — especially our youth — with legislation that protects and affirms the existence, legitimacy and personhood of queer and trans people, now and in the future.

Banning conversion therapy in Yukon is a step in that direction.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Lori Fox is a writer and journalist whose work has also appeared in Yukon News, Vice, and The Guardian. When they aren't writing, they can usually be found fishing, gathering wild mushrooms, or chilling with a book and their pitbull, Herman.


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