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Canada’s Most Populous Province Just Banned Conversion Therapy for LGBTQ Youth

Ontario's legislature unanimously banned “any practice that seeks to change or direct the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient under 18 years of age, including efforts to change or direct the patient’s behavior or gender expression."
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Ontario has joined a small club of jurisdictions that forbid forcing children into widely-discredited "conversion therapy" that has been blamed for a score of teen suicides.

After today, the province will ban "any practice that seeks to change or direct the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient under 18 years of age, including efforts to change or direct the patient's behavior or gender expression."


Legislation changing the provincial regulations was introduced earlier this year. Specifically, it ensures that the province's universal health care will not cover the costs of the so-called conversion therapy, and that any doctor could face serious penalties if they perform the practise on those under 18.

Adults will still be permitted to seek out the treatment, but the government will not pay for the costs.

The bill passed unanimously on Thursday afternoon.

That makes Ontario, Canada's most populous province, one of only a handful of states or provinces worldwide where the practise is expressly forbidden. California, Oregon, New Jersey, and Washington, DC all banned the practise in the last few years. In late May, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to ban conversion therapy.

"I want to dedicate it to some folk," said Cheri DiNovo, the legislator who wrote the bill, when it came up for debate. "I want to dedicate it to Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old who committed suicide December 28. She was a trans young person, and her final words were, 'Fix society. Please.'"

Alcorn committed suicide by stepping in front of a tractor trailer in 2014. In her suicide note, she blamed her decision on the conversion therapy that she was forced into by her parents.

A handful of LGBTQ Ontarians testified about their own experiences with the supposed therapy when they were invited before a committee this week.


Just a handful of small groups in Canada have offered conversion in recent decades, and its prevalence is declining as religious groups repudiate the practise.

Religious ministries peddling in spiritual pseudo-science have long been the main purveyors of the practise — the most famous being evangelical groups like Exodus International, which ended the practise apologizing to the gay community in 2013.

Other groups like the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) have marketed the utterly discredited practise as an actual science.

Confoundingly, many "ex-gay" organizations still have charitable status in Canada.

Related: 'Therapists' Called Clients 'Fags,' Made Them Strip in Gay Conversion Therapy 

It's not clear what this legislation will mean for the controversial Child, Youth and Family Program's Gender Identity Service, which is housed in Toronto's main mental health clinic.

In recent years, clinicians in that centre wrote that "we do not have a particular quarrel with the prevention of transsexualism as a treatment goal for children." The service's founder, Dr. Susan Bradley, was quoted in a column suggesting that transgender people are actually on the autism spectrum or have OCD. She called Bill 77 "disgraceful."

That clinic has been the subject of numerous complaints and, as of March, is no longer taking patients as its practises are being reviewed. Bill 77 could mean significant changes for the centre, or even its shutdown.


But while controversy over gay conversion therapy has gone a long way to end the practise, confusion and misunderstanding about gender identity has pushed some parents into thinking that their transgender children can be 'cured.'

The support for the bill across party lines underscores a fast-moving evolution of politicians in Canada. While the New Democratic Party, of which DiNovo is a member, has long been an advocate for LGBTQ rights, both the governing Liberal Party — whose leader, Kathleen Wynne, became the first openly-gay woman to be elected as a head of government in North America — and the right-wing Progressive Conservative Party both stood to support the bill.

Christine Elliott, speaking for the Conservatives, said merely raising the issue would have a net positive impact on trans youth.

"Perhaps the fact that we are here today in support of Bill 77 will provide some hope that here in Ontario we will not tolerate questionable practices that attempt to suppress people's true identities," she told the legislature.

Wynne offered her own experience as a reason why she would be supporting the bill.

"When I came out at the age of 37, I had the benefit of 36 years of life experience, and I understood my journey in a way that an eight-year-old or a nine-year-old or a 13-year-old or a 14-year-old cannot possibly," she said.

In 2012, the parties stood to support equally groundbreaking legislation when they adopted Toby's Law, which offered civil human rights protections to all transgender Ontarians, on the basis of their gender identity.

That same level of cross-party acceptance hasn't made it to the capital. In Ottawa, a bill trying to afford protections for trans people, under both civil and criminal law, has been stalled for years, and appears set to fail once again, thanks to a concerted effort from one unelected senator who believes, like Mike Huckabee, that protecting trans people means giving sexual predators access to little girls' bathrooms.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling

Watch VICE's documentary Gay Conversion Therapy here:

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