The city council of Kingston, Ontario voted unanimously on Tuesday to condemn conversion therapy and draft municipal bylaws that would prohibit it, after hearing pleas from conversion therapy survivors and advocates, and an emotional speech by the mayor who has himself has been accused of participating in the practice.
“Conversion therapy is wrong. It's just plain wrong,” Mayor Bryan Paterson said at the virtual council meeting. “I do not support it, or condone it in any way, shape or form.”
The original motion put before council, and seconded by Paterson, denounces conversion therapy, the widely discredited pseudoscientific practice of trying to suppress or change someone’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation to cisgender or straight. It has “devastating impacts on its victims” including anxiety, depression, self-hatred, suicide, and other psychological and social issues, states the advocacy group No Conversion Canada.
The motion also formally supports the federal government’s proposed conversion therapy ban, Bill C-6, that, if passed, will criminalize conversion therapy for minors and for adults who are forced into it.
Derek Sloan, the Conservative federal MP who is one of several Conservatives who opposes the federal legislation to ban conversion therapy was originally scheduled to speak to the motion, but, in a rare move, the councillors denied him the opportunity to do so.
An amendment to pursue local bylaws by this fall that would ban the practice within the city “across all age groups” was eventually added—putting Kingston on track to become the first city in the province to ban the practice, following a number of other cities that have already done so, mostly in Alberta.
“I see this motion as a chance for council, and also for me, to take a stand against something that is wrong, but also make a stand on something that is right, in this case, an inclusive community,” Paterson told the council.
Paterson came under fire last fall for his long-time involvement with a local ultra-conservative evangelical church, Third Day Worship Centre (TDWC), after videos emerged showing the church’s leader pastor spewing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric during his sermons and promoting conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within days, Paterson, who once served as a TDWC youth pastor, announced he and his family had left the church and that he did not agree with those views of the church. Last October, VICE World News published a series of investigations into numerous allegations of conversion therapy at the church over the last decade, including the story of one young man, Ben Rodgers, who alleged that Paterson, as youth pastor, participated in the conversion therapy he says he experienced by church leaders.
Paterson has denied participating in conversion therapy and TDWC has not responded to these allegations, which were also later reported on by Global News.
Rodgers appeared briefly at the council meeting on Tuesday to speak about his experiences at the church in 2004 when he was 19 and urge councillors, and Paterson, to pass the motion.
“I survived conversion therapy through the church, Third Day Worship Centre … a church you, Mayor Paterson, were a pastor and an interim dean while I attended at that church,” Rodgers said.
He described how church leaders told him to fast for three days before he would attend a service where they would lay hands on him in an attempt to turn him from gay to straight. “I had hands over my face, there were people yelling in some strange languages ... calling out demons of lust and homosexuality, forcing me to change who I was,” Rodgers said.
“I don't know about you, but that sounds like torture. And for me, it really was.”
Later on, before the final vote, Paterson said he wanted to “address the elephant in the room, which, in this case, is me.”
“I know full well that my personal faith has been in the spotlight over the last number of months,” he said. “I know that there have been some legitimate questions, some misperceptions even about what my own beliefs are.”
He said that when he heard Rodgers’ story, “it honestly breaks my heart.”
Paterson said that while he was “not aware of these situations, I'm just deeply saddened to hear about the negative experiences that people have.” As a Christian, he said that his views on the LGBTQ+ community have “evolved over the years,” and that he has now “come to that place where I believe that I'm called to love every person to ensure that they are valued and respected. That is my heart.”
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