Florence Ashley: The Conservatives want to abandon trans children

The party's election platform includes a promise to criminalize conversion therapy—but only for sexual orientation

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      By Florence Ashley

      A majority of Conservative Party MPs—over half—voted against Bill C-6, which would have criminalized the practice of conversion therapy across Canada. The House ultimately passed the bill but it stalled in the Senate and died on the order paper when Justin Trudeau called an election.

      The Conservative Party’s electoral platform now claims that they’ve always been clear in their opposition to conversion therapy and will indeed criminalize it—but only for sexual orientation, not gender identity and expression.

      By proposing a ban that does not include gender identity and expression, the Conservative Party is breaking with the consensus of professional associations and United Nations expert recommendations and threatening to stand idly by as transgender children are subjected to dehumanizing and harmful practices that aim to change who they are at their core. Through its electoral platform, the Conservatives are showing their disregard for the well-being of trans Canadians. 

      Conversion therapy treats sexual and gender diversity as disorders to be cured, and employs sustained efforts in order to change, discourage or repress people’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

      In a recent report, the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity called on governments across the world to ban conversion therapies targeting not only sexual orientation, but also gender identity and expression. According to the Independent Expert, conversion therapy violates international human rights protections against degrading, inhuman and cruel practices. 

      Studies show that conversion therapy is just as harmful to trans people.

      recent study from Harvard Medical School showed that trans people who experienced conversion therapy were 2.27 times more likely to attempt suicide. Those who experienced conversion therapy before the age of 10 were 4.15 more likely to do so. 

      Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health found no significant mental health differences between trans and non-trans survivors of conversion therapy—both were negatively impacted to a life-threatening degree.

      Rejecting and repressing who someone is at the bottom of their hearts is a recipe for untold trauma. 

      Unsurprisingly, conversion therapy targeting gender identity and expression are widely opposed by leading professional associations including the Canadian Psychiatric AssociationCanadian Psychological AssociationCanadian Association for Social WorkersAmerican Psychological Association and American Medical Association.

      In a resolution earlier this year, the American Psychological Association explained that (1) there is no scientific evidence that attempts to change, discourage or repress gender identity can attenuate gender dysphoria; (2) there is substantial evidence that affirming trans people’s gender identity improves mental health and quality of life; and (3) there is substantial evidence that conversion therapy causes significant harm.

      In light of this scientific consensus, nearly every jurisdiction has decided to prohibit conversion therapies targeting gender identity and expression in addition to sexual orientation.

      In Canada, all existing provincial laws protect trans Canadians from conversion therapy. By leaving out gender identity and expression from their platform and voting in majority against the Liberals’ Bill C-6, the Conservative Party is sending a clear message of exclusion and discrimination to trans communities across the country.

      A federal ban on conversion therapy that only includes sexual orientation would make Canada an international laughingstock rather than the leader it could be. We cannot let this happen. 

      Florence Ashley is a transfeminine jurist and bioethicist. They are a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Joint Centre for Bioethics.