by Rachel Everett-Fry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Our MP Michael Barrett was the focus of some attention in social media last week after voting against a federal ban on Conversion Therapy.
On June 22, the House of Commons voted on Bill C-6, a federal ban on conversion therapy. The bill passed with a 263-63 vote.
MP Barrett was one of the 63 MPs who voted against the bill.
This was the third reading of the bill, which means it is on its way to pass through the Senate before becoming law. The LGBTQ+ community is celebrating this as a victory, though long overdue. Kemptville Pride issued a statement, stating that, it is “disappointing that people who are tasked with making major decisions like this are not prepared and knowledgeable to make an informed vote.”
Conversion therapy is defined in the bill as “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.”
In other words, conversion therapy takes a person’s non-heterosexuality or trans* gender identity as something to be fixed. Methods include talk therapy, shaming tactics, or physical ‘treatments’ such as shock therapy. There is no scientific evidence that sexuality can be changed.
Many conversion therapy methods have been linked to long term trauma: making a queer person believe they can, and in fact should, become straight is inherently damaging. And yet the practice remains legal in Canada, until this Bill comes into effect.
In a statement issued to the media, MP Barrett said, “I am unequivocal in my opposition to conversion therapy and attempts to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation. All Canadians deserve respect and protection, and members of the LGBTQ2 community, of course, deserve this protection. Conversion therapy is reprehensible, and it should be outlawed.”
He stated that he supported the bill at the second reading in the House of Commons. He declines to, actually state, that he changed his vote in the third reading of the bill.
Conservative party statements indicated that the MPs’ intentions were to, “add clarity to the bill, specifically that, it exclude purely private discussions between an individual struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity and those seeking to support that individual, such as teachers, school counsellors, faith leaders, family members and friends.”
Since the version of the Bill that is on its way to Senate already has as a provision that allows consenting adults to undergo conversion therapy should it be voluntary and not in exchange for payment, it seems unclear what the wording proposed by MP Barrett and his colleagues would accomplish. The inclusion of “teachers and school counsellors” also leaves a disturbing allowance for minors to be subjected to such “purely private” discussions.
Nonetheless, in his statement MP Barrett insists that he has the best interests of the LGBTQ2S+ community at heart. He says more clarity in the bill would allow the queer community to “feel supported, not in spite of who they are or to change who they are, but for who they are.”
MP Barrett’s approach to this issue is similar to Canadian Christian groups like Free to Care and ARPA (Association for Reformed Political Action) who have attacked the Bill, also professing their support of LGBTQ2+ rights.
For instance, Free to Care, a group with founding members who have undergone counselling to reduce homosexual desires, has flagged that the Bill’s definition of conversion therapy as an issue, arguing that it could prohibit queer people from seeking therapy while their heterosexual counterparts would be able to access such services.
Whether or not the law will ever be applied in this way remains to be seen. Likewise, ARPA professes their support, but yet, states on their website that sexuality is a blessing when it is “lovingly between one man and one woman who are committed to each other for life in marriage.”
The resounding response from the LGBTQ2+ community has been support for a full ban on conversion therapy.
Our own Kemptville Pride, an organization that does not merely claim allyship with the queer community but actually consults with the community, and has LGBTQ2S+ folks on its board, has formally invited MP Barrett to a meeting to discuss, “the very real-life impacts of conversion therapy.”