The Yukon legislature passed two new laws on Nov. 9. One will make homophobic conversion therapy for LGBT minors illegal in the territory and another will grant leave of absence for employees coping with domestic or sexualized violence.
The new Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act now makes the practice of conversion therapy explicitly illegal when practised on minors.
Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. The term is also used in regards to trying to forcibly deny or change a person’s gender identity and expression.
In 2019, students from the Porter Creek Secondary School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance began a petition calling on the territory to ban the controversial practice.
“Banning it says that it’s not OK. Whereas it was a little grey line before; you haven’t made a law against this, but you shouldn’t do it. Now there’s a law against this. It’s a crime,” said Xander O’Donnell, a Grade 10 student at Porter Creek Secondary School.
“I’m just very proud of my community that we’ve accomplished this in a span of two years,” he said.
The federal government is currently proposing a nation-wide ban on the practice that includes a ban on advertising and profiting from it in addition to performing it on minors and forcing it on adults.
While the practice has been condemned by the Canadian Psychological Association and shown to cause psychological harm, the proposed ban – both nationally and it the Yukon – has seen some pushback.
NDP leader Kate White quoted a letter from a disgruntled member of the public who claimed it was an “unprecedented political intrusion” into the lives of both individuals and faith leaders.
MLA Brad Cathers originally criticized the Liberals for not consulting more widely before implementing it, but he later apologized for his comments after pushback from the Porter Creek students.
Despite that incident, the bill passed into law unanimously and was supported by all three parties.
Leave for victims of domestic and sexualized violence
The Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act adds a new provision to the existing law that will eventually provide access to paid and unpaid leave for victims of domestic or sexualized violence working in territorially regulated industries and professions.
“It will significantly lower barriers for employees by minimizing financial hardships and providing victims the time to access medical, legal, and other supports as they need,” said Community Services Minister John Streicker, addressing the House on Nov. 5.
Rates of domestic violence in Yukon are three times the national average. The rate is even higher for Indigenous women and girls.
The new expanded law applies to employees if they, their children, or people for whom they are close friends or caregivers experience domestic or sexualized violence.
It allows employees to take five days of paid leave and five days of unpaid leave which can be taken in increments. If required, a longer-term leave of up to 15 unpaid weeks can be taken.
The two pieces of legislation are the second and third new laws to be granted assent since the legislature began sitting on Oct. 1
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