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Calgary’s proposed conversion therapy bylaw nets 600+ pages of public submissions

Shocked and horrified, yet not surprised.

That’s how Pam Rocker of Affirming Connections felt when she read the initial batch of about 70 public submissions against Calgary’s conversion therapy ban bylaw.

“It’s what to be expected from people who want to continue to practice conversion therapy,” said Rocker.

The bylaw and submissions will be discussed in the May 13 Community and Protective Services committee meeting.

The bylaw prohibits any business or business-like offerings or advertisements in relation to conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy” means a practice, treatment, or service designed to change, repress, or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour, according to the bylaw.

A violation could be met with a fine of up to $10,000. A default in payment is subject to one year in prison.

Since the proposal in January, the city has received just more than 600 pages worth of public submissions. The initial tranche came with 298. A second showed up the next afternoon with 316 pages.

The initial batch predominantly said the bylaw infringes on the personal freedoms of Calgarians.

Coun. Evan Woolley, one of the primary sponsors of the bylaw, said that isn’t the case.

“Our law department and our lawyers have looked at whether or not this is overreach, and they’ve advised that it’s not,” he said.

Coun. Woolley said he’s focused on those public submissions that are from psychologists, therapists, and other experts with years of work.

Submissions suggest a violation of right to receive treatment

A majority of the submissions in the first batch call for a rewording of the bylaw to support those seeking help of their own volition.

They cite examples of LGBTQ2S+ individuals who have left or may want to leave “that part” of their life. This often comes with a description of how much better their life has become without it.

They also provide examples of people who have de-transitioned. Many say they regret the transition and are happier as their ‘original’ gender.

Most submissions say the bylaw violates the choice to receive treatment to complement these decisions.

“What is ultimately foundational to this idea is that there’s something ‘wrong’ with being gay or being trans,” said Rocker.

Some submissions say counselling works

But what about people who, in their submissions, say it worked?

Plenty of the submissions come from those defending what happened to them, saying it helped them lead a better, more faith-enriched life.

To explain their experiences, or those of others, some focus on the change in behaviour, versus orientation.

“Proponents of the ban point to various health organizations that say that ‘conversion therapy’ does not work to change sexual orientation. However, none of these organizations say that good, healthy counselling cannot help change unwanted behaviour,” said one statement.

Many of the initial 70 or so submissions liken same-sex attractions to addictions like cigarettes, pornography, and sex in general, saying counselling ‘helped’ them.

Whatever they’ve gone through has likely involved some form of pain, past or present, and Rocker expressed her compassion for those individuals.

“It doesn’t surprise me that when you’re inside of religious culture and a suppressive belief system that you would want to try to change or suppress who you are, because the consequences of being who you are are really high,” she said.

Some disagree with the definition of conversion therapy in the bylaw and offer their own, saying the practices they’ve experienced don’t fall into it.

“No churches or counselling services that I encountered in Calgary ever attempted to pressure or coerce me into being heterosexual, even when that is what I wanted,” another statement read.

Most first submissions call for a rewording

A general theme of the first batch of submissions is either that what they’re doing isn’t conversion therapy, or the bylaw is unnecessary because it’s not around anymore.

Some submissions claim they haven’t seen violent practices since the 1950s.

“That’s wrong. I know people where electroshock therapy has been used on them in the past five years,” Rocker said.

She said things like this often stay hidden “underground” and mask themselves under new definitions and justifications, or claim to be “modern” and safe counselling methods.

The bylaw’s supporters are optimistic. The conversation has started, no matter what happens with it.

“I think this whole process will help people realize the myriad of ways [conversion therapy] can manifest,” said Rocker.

“I’m excited that this conversation is out in the open, because if it just stays in the shadows, then it continues to fester.”

Coun. Woolley said they will hear from the public on the bylaw, and he is open to hearing both sides.

Submissions tell one side of the story

The bylaw and its approach has received “overwhelming support” from Coun. Woolley’s community.

Woolley’s colleagues seem to support the bylaw as well. This was evident when the motion for the bylaw was unanimously approved.

“As a city, we need to take a stand on this important issue,” he said

The initial batch of public submission are certainly weighted towards making changes to the bylaw. This past week, however, there was a local campaign to motivate people to participate.

And it seems that Morrison’s campaign took off quickly. This afternoon, a second batch of submissions was released. It was made up of over 300 pages of more than 200 letters in support of the conversion therapy ban.

Only six negative arguments were made in this newest batch.

“Really, at the end of the day, I am really hopeful the bylaw passes,” Rocker said

Coun. Woolley said he has a “hard time seeing any arguments” against that happening.

To view tomorrow’s public committee meeting, follow this link.