NDP Bill Could End Conversion Therapy in Ontario
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NDP Bill Could End Youth Conversion Therapy in Ontario

A new bill aims to put an end to funding so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

When Erika Muse was 16 years old, she came out as transgender. Understanding her gender identity was something she found comfort in. “I was happy,” she told the media at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

Shortly after coming out, the Hamilton woman was referred to an OHIP-funded therapist—someone she saw for seven years, until 2012. But something wasn’t right. Her practitioner did not provide her with hormone therapy and belittled her identity and even pointed out her masculine attributes as a means of undermining her. Muse became depressed.

“I came to the realization that the therapist didn’t think my trans identity was real,” she says. “I often left feeling violated and hurt.”

Three years later, Muse, 26, is speaking out thanks to a new bill proposed by NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park Cheri DiNovo on March 11. The Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act seeks to prohibit conversion, or “reparative,” therapy for LGBTQ youth under 18 and delist its practitioners from receiving taxpayer funding.

Conversion therapy includes any practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. And in Muse’s words: “Yes, these practices are still happening today”—even in Toronto.

DiNovo says OHIP should not cover what she called in an interview with Torontoist “horrendous” therapies. The bill will need support from at least some of the Majority Liberals to become law.

Much of these therapies remain unknown to the public because they are not labelled as such. For instance, the health care provider who treated Muse—and still practices today—was never touted as a reparative therapist. In order for the legislation to be a success, DiNovo says it will be victim-driven, based on the complaints of those who have been exposed to conversion therapy.

The first conversion therapies used on “non-conforming” youth date back to the 1960s, based on research from the likes of Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides. In 2009, the American Psychological Association denounced these practices, claiming there was little evidence to support that they were successful.

The proposed legislation will focus not only on lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, but also on the oft-forgotten transgender community—a demographic whom similar legislation passed in 2012 in California failed to adequately address. For this reason, Jake Pyne, a researcher in Social Work and Gender Studies at McMaster University, calls Ontario “a leader” in championing LGBTQ rights. DiNovo’s act is also one of the first in line with the province’s protections for gender identity and expression, both of which were added to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 2012.

The act has a long way to go—as the National Post’s Tara Paterson notes, “bills from third place parties rarely make it to a second reading.” But for those like Muse, it’s the first step in the right direction. “There’s a body of thought that conversion therapy is the way to deal with trans identity,” she says. “But it’s not.”