“It’s 2018. Being queer is not something that is regarded as a mental issue anymore,” said Devon Hargreaves, an Alberta-based LGBTQ activist who started the petition. “This is about recognizing the need to protect queer minors.”
Since it launched at the end of September, the petition has gathered more than 3,000 signatures and is set to be presented in the House of Commons in January.
Hargreaves said there has been “overwhelming support” for the petition as many Canadians didn’t know conversion therapy still existed.
Conversion therapy refers to a therapeutic attempt to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ individuals to heterosexual. It can include prayer or religious rites, modification of behaviours, and individual or group counselling.
The controversial practice is banned in a few provinces in Canada, including Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia and in one city, Vancouver. An Edmonton-era MLA has also put forward a private members bill aimed at banning conversion therapy in Alberta.
Malta is the first country in the world to ban gay conversion therapy, imposing fines of up to $15,000 and a jail term of up to one year for offenders. The law in the European nation says that “no sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression constitutes a disorder, disease or shortcoming of any sort.”
In July, the United Kingdom announced it was planning to outlaw conversion therapyas part of an effort to counter intolerance and discrimination.
The therapy has also been widely debunked by the medical community.
Several groups, such as the Canadian Psychological Association and the World Health Organization, have opposed the practice, saying it lacks scientific credibility and can cause harmful consequences such as anxiety, depression, a feeling of personal failure and sexual dysfunction.
“There is no evidence that the negative effects of conversion or reparative therapy counterbalance any distress caused by the social stigma and prejudice these individuals may experience,” the Canadian Psychological Association said in a statement.
A 2009 report from the American Psychological Association “concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm.”
Global News reached out the Trudeau government for a comment about the petition and a spokesperson said that conversion therapy, “is wrong, extremely harmful and does not reflect our government’s values or those of Canadians.
“We recognize that Canada has not always been a welcoming place, in particular for LGBTQ2 people, and that we can and must do better,” the spokesperson said.
‘The shame had almost killed me’
Peter Gajdics, who lives in Vancouver, said he knows first hand how devastating conversion therapy can be.
From 1989 to 1996, Gajdic underwent “conversion therapy” with a licenced psychiatrist in Victoria, B.C., which he said left him depressed and shell-shocked.
“These types of treatments are usually more in faith-based environments … but mine was with a psychiatrist, who I went to, not change my sexuality, but because I was struggling with issues of coming out and being rejected by my family,” he said.
“His solution to all these issues was to say that I needed to revert to my innate heterosexuality and for six years he treated me for this.”
Gajdics said he received high doses of medication and even was injected with ketamine, a powerful anaesthetic and painkiller drug. He said the drugs were given to him to “silence the homosexuality.”
After the six years of therapy, he said he was still attracted to men and it took him years to understand what had happened to him.
“The shame almost killed me,” he said.
‘Petition is long overdue’
Gajdics said he is thrilled to see the petition gaining signatures and eventually heading to parliament.
“This is long overdue. People need to understand this still happens, it’s an expression of homophobia,” he said. “Conversion therapy is an ideology that says gays and trans people are broken and need to be cured or fixed, even though it’s been denounced by health organizations.”
The petition is open for signatures until Jan. 18, and then the federal government will be able to respond. Hargreaves said he is hoping Canada’s political parties don’t make this a political issue.
“This is about protecting queer youth … and Canada being a leader in human rights,” he said.