The Yukon government has tabled legislation aiming to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy.
Jeanie Dendys, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, tabled Bill No. 9, or the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act, on March 12.
In an interview March 17, Alex Muszynski, the acting director of the Women’s Directorate, said the basis of the act is to protect minors and adults, who have someone appointed as a decision maker on their behalf, from the harms of conversion therapy. The legislation makes it clear that conversion therapy is not an insured service.
“We’re planning to prohibit conversion therapy from being offered,” Muszynski said.
He pointed out that several organizations, such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association have denounced the practice as harmful.
The legislation provides a definition of conversion therapy as a “service,” including counselling, behaviour modification techniques or prescription of medications, provided to an individual with the goal of having the person change gender identities or sexual orientations.
The bill notes conversion therapy does not include “a practice, treatment or service that provides acceptance, support or understanding of a person or that facilitates a person’s coping, social support or identity exploration or development,” or “gender-affirming surgery or any practice, treatment or service related to gender-affirming surgery.”
The Yukon is developing this legislation alongside the federal government, which is developing its own. Muszynski said the federal government’s bill will look at making conversion therapy part of the Canadian Criminal Code.
Muszynski said the territory is watching the federal process closely, with the hope that the federal bill passes to offer maximum protection to the LGBTQ+ community.
The territorial bill will have to go through multiple readings and debates before being enacted. Muszynski explained that a bill usually goes through in one legislative sitting, provided the session goes ahead normally.
He said the situation could quickly change, considering the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are somewhat exceptional times right now,” Muszynski said.
Chris Boodram, the president of Queer Yukon, said he is really happy to see the Yukon’s proposed legislation. He explained that conversion therapy does nothing to change anyone’s lifestyle and is harmful to individuals undertaking it.
He feels it is a stretch to call the practice “therapy.”
“It’s certainly not therapy,” Boodram said.
He said that both sexual orientation and gender identity are deeply rooted into someone’s psyche. This fact, he explained, is what makes conversion therapy ineffective, adding that gender identity and sexual orientation are not individual characteristics that can be changed and thus should be celebrated.
Youth are vulnerable to the practice, he pointed out. He said some young people can find themselves in families that may not be accepting of their lifestyle choices and may push them into conversion therapy, and that he’s happy this proposed legislation would allow for some protection.
Muszynski said he’s glad to see the Yukon following suit with other jurisdictions on this issue and that the proposed legislation has been a long time coming.
“I am really glad this is happening at the federal level and Yukon,” Boodram said, adding that he thought the Yukon bill “seems comprehensive” and believed it would serve its purpose.
Neither Muszynski nor Boodram were aware of anyone offering conversion therapy in the territory.
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