Conversion therapy is finally illegal, but survivors still need support


LGBTQ2S+ conversion therapy is now illegal in Canada, but recent poll results show there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Specifically, survivors want better access to therapists who truly understand and affirm their experiences, as well as resources to help others understand the harm of subtle statements that compel them to change.

The survey is part of a research project to assess the needs of survivors of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change (SOGIECE) efforts, an umbrella term that not only includes religion-based conversion therapy, but also a broader range of experiences, practices, pressures and messages – all intended to deny, suppress or alter a person’s identity or orientation.

“What the research has told us is that there is still an almost total lack of support available [for conversion therapy survivors]”said Jordan Sullivan, who led the research project under the banner of Generous Space Ministries initially and now the Community Research Center (CBRC). Sullivan is a trans man and conversion therapy survivor himself.

The results were presented last month. A total of 270 people from across Canada responded to the survey. The project leaders also interviewed 21 people individually and 12 people participated in focus groups. The project also involved consultations with 18 therapists.

Eighty percent of survey respondents said they wanted access to “affirming therapists experienced in dealing with religious trauma, SOGIECE trauma, gender, sexuality, grief and shame” .

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N Siritsky, a Halifax-based social worker and chaplain who has worked with survivors of conversion therapy and similar experiences, said they believe banning conversion therapy will not dispel existing harm or the unconscious biases that have led therapists to perpetuate this damage.

“The challenge is that there are no universally accepted standards or guidelines for how therapists should work with people who identify as gay, let alone those who have experienced trauma related to their previous experiences with their therapist,” Siritsky said. “So as a result, you end up with people’s subjective beliefs infiltrating their language.”

They gave the example of a therapist using the word “gay,” a term that most people, but especially queer people, associate with pathology.

Social worker and chaplain N Siritsky says there is still a lot of “unlearning” that needs to happen in society when it comes to conversion therapy and similar practices. (Courtesy picture)

“And so any word or turn of phrase or any failure to acknowledge re-triggers that old trauma and perpetuates it, brings it to life,” Siritsky said. They think therapists and clergy should have unconscious bias training.

They are also working to set up a private practice to counsel people who have experienced this type of religious trauma. Siritsky said they also hope to train clergy on how to provide “trauma-informed and inclusive ministry and service.”

One of the aims of the SOGIECE project was to set up an online referral network of affirmative therapists. Sullivan said he is also developing a SOGIECE Knowledge Center to improve support for survivors as well as to increase awareness and understanding of these practices.

And the survey data — which shows that many people who have experienced conversion therapy-type practices do not consider themselves survivors — underscores the need for this.

You can read more in the report below.

SOGIECE/CT Survivor Support… by Emma Prestwich

“Before I found the link to this project’s survey, I didn’t even know what I had experienced could be considered this,” one trans project participant said in the report. “And I didn’t know how to think about or explain those experiences.”

Eighty-one percent of survey respondents said they wanted to see “more resources to help people understand that small, subtle statements of change are just as harmful as blatant statements and pressure to change.”

Sullivan said that in his conversations with therapists on the project, he learned that many view conversion therapy as something very specific. When he asked therapists how often they noticed conversion therapy trauma in their clients, they said they rarely did.

“But once we start talking about what we mean by conversion therapy practices, what we mean by SOGIECE, what we mean by the harm they’ve been through, the therapists themselves say to themselves “Oh my God, well, pretty much everyone,” he said.

Sullivan also acknowledged that the project had its limitations. The majority of respondents were white, most identified as queer or gay, and 68% lived in urban areas.

The project started in 2021 on the initiative of Generous Space Ministriesa now-defunct Christian affirmation organization, and Sullivan thinks the religious connection might have discouraged some people from getting involved.

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He also said the research questions could have included some that would have engaged people of color more directly.

“So we need a lot of future research, especially at the intersection of other systems of oppression – both survivors with disabilities, survivors who are black, indigenous, people of color, survivors who are immigrants to Canada, refugees,” he said. said. “And that’s something the CBRC is currently developing – a new qualitative research project to talk with these communities.”

In the future, he worries about the backlash of the new conversion therapy banan amendment to the Criminal Code that creates new criminal offenses for subjecting a person of any age to any form of conversion therapy, in Canada, to those who fear that their freedom of religion will be taken away from them.

“I know that many in the United States have spoken out very actively and come together to fight Canadian law, and you know there will be money coming north for similar groups in Canada,” a- he declared.

Siritsky says there’s still a lot of “unlearning” to do.

“The fact that conversion therapy was a thing, the fact that homosexuality could be diagnosed as a problem, that doesn’t just go away,” they said. “It speaks to the much larger context that allowed this to happen.”


Emma Prestwich is Wide view’s digital editor.

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