Calgary Standing Policy Committee

Born Perfect Supports Calgary Bylaw to Protect LGBTQ+ People from Conversion Therapy

Born Perfect presented the following letter to the City of Calgary on May 12 and offered public comment to the Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services on May 13, 2020.

Calgary Standing Policy CommitteeMay 12, 2020
Standing Policy Committee
on Community and Protective Services
City of Calgary, Alberta
Canada

To the Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to support the proposed Prohibited Businesses Bylaw.

I am the co-founder and chief strategist of Born Perfect, a U.S.-based, survivor-led movement of survivors and legal experts working to end conversion therapy. In the past eight years, Born Perfect has helped to pass laws protecting minors from conversion therapy in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 70 localities in the U.S. We have also consulted with a number of legislative bodies and public officials considering similar legislation in other countries.

As a survivor of conversion therapy, I know firsthand that attempts by a therapist to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity result in serious, lasting harms. Like many other young people, I believed the professional therapists who told me I could change my sexual orientation and become straight. But after five years of doing everything I could to change, I was plunged into depression and despair upon realizing that these “therapies” were bogus and that I could not change.

Like other survivors, it has taken me years to recover from the damage this experience caused. I will never be able to recover the time that I spent in this bogus therapy, which prevented me for years from living as my true self and robbed me of years that I will never regain. Conversion therapy also nearly destroyed my family, driving a wedge between me and my parents and siblings, based on my therapists’ false assertion that being gay is caused by problems or deficiencies in parenting. There is absolutely no scientific basis for that assertion, which underline almost all conversion therapy. Instead, by blaming parents, conversion therapists drive a wedge between LGBTQ youth and their families at the very time when young people most need parental love and support.

As my experience and that of other survivors shows, conversion therapy is an insidious practice that has no place in the practice of modern mental health care.

Since California passed the first law protecting minors from conversion therapy in 2012, many more states and localities in the United States, and a growing number of countries across the globe, have taken action to address this public health crisis. Importantly, these laws have been supported by elected officials from across the political spectrum, in recognition that this is truly an issue of public health, not politics, and that all responsible public officials have a responsibility to protect young people from a practice that is universally condemned as ineffective and unsafe by the international medical community.

For these reasons, we strongly support the proposed bylaw and urge you to vote in favor of its passage.

Very truly yours,

Mathew Shurka
Co-Founder, Born Perfect


Born Perfect is the leading campaign to end conversion therapy. We are survivors, lawyers, and policy experts working together to protect LGBTQ+ people nationally and around the globe. Born Perfect is a program of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Mathew Shurka

BY MATHEW SHURKA
NCLR Contributor

Six weeks and I’ll make you straight. Guaranteed.

That’s what a mental health professional told me when I was 16 years old, and trying to understand the feelings I was having for another teenage boy.

My father—afraid that our close-knit family would be ostracized in our community because of my sexual orientation—took me to the so-called therapist after I confided in my dad about my feelings for a friend. Little did anyone know that the visit with the therapist would start a seven-year battle that would pit my well being against the therapist’s relentless attempts to change my sexual orientation, and cause me to sink so deep into confusion and depression that I couldn’t leave my house for days on end, and even considered taking my own life.

I was raised 20-miles outside of New York City in a traditional Jewish household, where I was close with my parents and my two older sisters. Growing up, I always knew I was gay, but I fought back my feelings until I began to fall in love with a friend, and needed to share what I was experiencing with someone who could support and guide me. I turned to my father, who grew increasingly concerned and sought the help of the therapist whose promises of being able to make me straight in six weeks guaranteed intrigued him.

For an hour each week, this therapist, whose work was deeply rooted in tackling gay stereotypes, taught me the steps – walking more manly, talking more manly, becoming popular with my classmates – that he wanted me to take to live a lie and to seem like a straight teenage boy.

Overwhelmingly, the therapist wanted me to avoid any meaningful interaction – regardless of how short – with any women, fearing that it would stunt my progress and somehow send me spiraling back into a world where I would be gay. Under the therapist’s rules, I couldn’t talk to my mother and sisters, unraveling our once close-knit home.

With the therapist’s encouragement, I soon became dependent on him, relying on him to literally be my on-call decision maker, guiding me through each day to prevent what he considered setbacks.  I would call him with even the smallest question, afraid of making the wrong decision, and possibly stumbling down a path that would lead me to shame everyone in my family, including the two-dozen aunts, uncles, and cousins with whom I once shared weekly Shabbat dinners. The therapist feared that misguided interactions with anyone could potentially make me fallback.

Each time the therapist and I talked, I grew more and more confused. Since I could only spend quality time with other males, I chose to hang out with my friend, falling deeper in love with him, and more confused by feelings the therapist told me that two men could never have for one another. But it was my friend who soon became my place of peace from the hellish experience of living a lie.

At 19, I severed my ties with the therapist and moved to Los Angeles to get away from the lie – the double life – I had created for myself in New York. But I couldn’t forget what he had engrained in me – that I needed to change who I was in order to be accepted. It was buried deep in my memory, and I was petrified to make a decision – any decision, really – that could set me on a disastrous course toward shame.

I struggled to come to terms with my true self and set aside the poisonous damage that he caused in his years of trying to brainwash me into thinking that I couldn’t be gay and happy. I became depressed, and at my worst, I couldn’t leave my apartment for days, fearing that somewhere, somehow, I’d make a bad decision.

Slowly, with the help of another therapist and my mother, I found my willpower, reassembling the pieces of my life that I had last over the years I spent talking to the therapist who made me believe I wasn’t good enough. I moved back to New York, and last year, at the age of 23, I found the courage to say: I’m a gay man.

But it wasn’t until California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in September 2012 protecting minors from the same type of psychological abuse that I endured that I truly felt a sense of closure.

Finally, others have recognized the long-term damage caused by these types of practices, putting an end to it in California, and I’m hopeful that other states will soon follow.

Mathew Shurka resides in New York City, where he’s a student at Baruch College, and plans on becoming an architect.

— December 2013