Op-ed: The Conservatives want to abandon trans children

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

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 and 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.


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2 responses to “Op-ed: The Conservatives want to abandon trans children”

  1. Kudo’s to Florence Ashley. They have accurately portrayed an important distinction in party platforms that would serve to divide communities, tear apart families, and most importantly, put trans and non-binary youth at significantly higher risk. These youth are already at extreme risk for depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide because of the constant transphobia and exclusion they face in the broader society, however, this is exacerbated by the lack of understanding and support many experience from their families. Ontario’s TransPulse study found that trans youth who did not have highly supportive families were 14 times more likely to attempt suicide within a year. By excluding gender identity and expression in any conversion therapy ban, families will feel justified to subject their already vulnerable children to what some have described as psychological torture. By contrast, family support and access to gender transition supports are the most critical protective factors that lead to healthy outcomes for trans and non-binary youth. Communities must rally to say NO to all conversion therapy aimed at sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. Young lives are on the line. And families will also benefit from closer relationships to their happier young people.

  2. I find Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives to not be genuinely conservative but rather a money-first party with little or no stances on the major social issues for which they once stood. Thus, to me, they seem to stand for not much other than big business, finance and maybe a balanced budget.

    Not surprising, whenever I look at the vote-tally numbers after election day, the Conservatives seem to win by the center-left electorate dividing their votes amongst two or three mainstream center-left parties that are allowed in the televised debates. For this we can credit our First Past The Post electoral system, which barely qualifies as democratic rule within the democracy spectrum (though it seems to serve big corporate and money interests well).

    Nor do I find the Liberals to be truly liberal. They also pander to corporate objectives and the rich, albeit while maintaining their traditional liberal social policies, notably those involving race, gender and sexuality. Apparently big money interests get served regardless of which of these two parties rules. It’s amazing how politically focused and potent such interests can get!

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