CALGARY, Alberta (May 25, 2020) — The City Council of Calgary, Alberta, this afternoon approved a bylaw banning conversion therapy.
The bylaw prevents businesses in the city of 1.2 million from advertising, practicing, or knowingly harboring efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Such efforts have proven to be harmful and sometimes fatal to counselees, and destructive to their families.
“The continued efforts by jurisdictions across Canada to protect LGBTQ youth are lifesaving,” said Mathew Shurka, Co-Founder and Chief Strategist of Born Perfect. “Conversion therapy destroys families and causes serious harm to minors, sometimes leading to suicide. We are grateful to the Calgary City Councillors who passed this bylaw unanimously. Their vote sends a powerful message to every child that they are born perfect.”
Born Perfect spoke earlier this month to the city committee that was considering the proposed bylaw.
During final council discussions of the bylaw, proponents of the ban said it would ban inhumane torture and fraud. Critics said, without offering evidence, that the bylaw would infringe upon religious expression. Some councillors on both sides said the bylaw might be difficult to enforce because conversion therapy is often conducted illicitly.
Councillor: A city of welcome does not shame its own
Councillor Jeromy Farkas spoke powerfully about his own experience of shaming by proponents of conversion therapy: “I’ve been debating all morning whether to read some of the e-mails I received, pointedly making the claim that I’m somehow inhuman. That I’m unfit for office. That I am unfit to receive God’s love or anyone else’s. That I must be, that I will punished.”
Farkas also recalled the trauma of being pressured at a young age, by his former best friend, to “pray the ‘me’ away. I felt humiliated. More than 20 years later … I still have never felt as humiliated as I did that day. A close second comes the time when I approached a person whom I respected about my intention to run for city council. They thought that my orientation was not only the reason I wouldn’t be able to elected, but also the reason that I wouldn’t be any good at it.”
Farkas concluded that “I think it is worth sending a signal about the kind of city we are and want to be. I want you to hear me clearly. You can be anything. You can do anything. You can go anywhere but most of all you are welcome here. Welcome in Calgary, welcome in the council chamber and welcome to love. We are welcome here.”
Community allies spotlight survivor experiences
Born Perfect supported No Conversion Canada, Hillhurst United Church, and Affirming Connections in their campaign for Calgary’s Prohibited Businesses Bylaw. Born Perfect wrote on May 12, and spoke on May 13, to the Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services. During these committee hearings, several Calgary-area survivors recalled their own trauma and recovery. Their stories served as evidence to the council that conversion therapy is fraudulent, and that its proponents practice shame and family disruption, not mental-health support.
After the hearings, and following the lead of Hillhurst United Church, 44 local religious organizations — Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Unitarian — joined the call for a conversion-therapy ban. Affirming Coordinator Keith Murray of Hillhurst United said the church has become a local sanctuary for survivors of conversion therapy.
Dr. Kristopher Wells is research chair of the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth at MacEwan University. Wells said via Twitter upon the bylaw’s approval: “Calgary now has passed some of the strongest & most comprehensive conversion therapy prohibition legislation not only in Canada, but in the world.” Wells added: “Let’s not forget what this is really about: The survivors. If this bylaw saves one person from the damage done by conversion therapy, it will all have been worth it. To those we’ve lost. We will never forget you. No one needs to change who they are or who they love.”
Wells believes that conversion therapy is rooted in anti-LGBTQ ideology. “It’s called a pseudo-scientific practice because it’s not backed by any evidence,” Wells said. “It’s, in fact, fraudulent. It’s deceptive and it’s dangerous.” The World Health Organization and the Canadian Physiological Association oppose the practice, and the College of Alberta Psychologists has banned it.
During the campaign, Affirming Connections Director Pam Rocker frequently voiced the importance of passing the proposed bylaw without amendments or exceptions. The bylaw passed by a vote of 14-1 with no amendments.
“The Calgary City Council has shown much-needed courage and leadership in standing up for LGBTQ youth in the face of vicious attacks by Journey Canada and hate-based groups that promote dangerous lies and misinformation about LGBTQ people,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which provides legal support to U.S. states and cities in implementing and defending bans. “Contrary to the false messages of these groups, being LGBTQ is a natural part of the spectrum of human identity. All children deserve love and support, and the City of Calgary did the right thing in protecting people from this devastating practice.”
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).