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Supporting Survivors of Conversion Therapy

Reilla Archibald

October 4, 2021 7 Min Read

First, what is conversion therapy or SOGIECE? You may have heard of conversion therapy as a specific practice that aims to change the sexual orientation of someone who is gay or not straight to heterosexual. However, more recently, ‘sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts’ (SOGIECE) has been used as an umbrella term that includes conversion therapy and other explicit or implicit efforts to persuade someone to express their sexual and/or gender identity as heterosexual and/or matching sex assigned at birth (i.e.,cisgender).1 Recent estimates show that over 50,000 men in Canada have experienced conversion therapy (note this figure doesn’t include women or non-binary people).2 Despite efforts to end to conversion therapy, these harmful practices persist in Canada and abroad. Read "Identifying harmful "Conversion Therapy" Practices" to learn more.

There is no one form of conversion therapy. Some examples of conversion therapy include talk therapy, aversion practices, physical punishment, psychotherapy, prayer & bible studies, and adopting cisheteronormative* behaviours. These harms take place in various settings such as in the home, schools, camps, religious settings, through counsellors, and through licensed and unlicensed healthcare providers. SOGIECE survivors experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance use, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts compared to the general population.3 A recent study indicated that 1 in 3 men who have experienced SOGIECE have attempted suicide.3

While there has been progress to protect 2S/LGBTQ+* people and prohibit conversion therapy, there is much more to be done. Several municipal and provincial bans on conversion therapy have been implemented throughout Canada.4 Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Quebec have enacted legislative bans. Yukon has lead by example, implementing both a ban and improvements to gender affirming care policies.5 This leaves BC among the provinces yet to take action. Bill C-6 was a proposed ban to criminalize conversion therapy across Canada.6 While this bill did not reach the Senate for a vote before adjournment, a majority of Canadian Members of Parliament (263/326) voted in support of the bill.7 These actions show progress, but they are overdue and incomplete. Several areas have yet to enact bans, leaving conversion therapy practices free to operate without legal interruption.

Bans on conversion therapy are a good first step towards preventing further harm and drawing public attention to this important issue. However, we must recognize that they do little for those who have already been through conversion therapy and are suffering.

So, where can you turn to if you’re a survivor? What can you do if you’re a friend of a survivor? How can you help as a practitioner? Whoever you are, there are supports out there for you. Unfortunately, they can be scarce and tough to find. Below, we have compiled tips and resources to support SOGIECE survivors, whether you’re a survivor yourself, a friend or family member, or a practitioner.

*Cisheteronormativity refers to cissexism and heterosexism, which assume cisgender gender identities and heterosexual sexual orientations are more natural and legitimate than those of 2SLGBTQ people.8

*2S/LGBTQ+ stands for Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other sexually and gender diverse people.

Tips and Resources

For SOGIECE Survivors

Check out survivor networks. These networks provide safe, inclusive spaces for survivors to develop community and connect with other survivors.

  • Born Perfect is a campaign to end conversion therapy, offering a platform for survivors to share their stories. You can view stories of other survivors and/or share your own here.
  • Conversion Therapy Dropout Network is another survivor support network. On the last Sunday of every month, they hold a Survivor Sunday round-table event where survivors come together and share stories.
  • CT Survivors is a group of survivors who have come together to connect and heal. You can join their newsletter and check out their events that include various trauma processing discussions for survivors.
  • CT Survivors Connect is a Canadian, survivor led, online support group. Their first meeting is set to launch August 23, 2021.

Consider speaking with 2S/LGBTQ+ affirming therapists who have experience with SOGIECE survivors

For Friends & Family of Survivors

Provide support

  • If you know someone who has been through conversion therapy, acknowledge the trauma.
  • Be available. Be open to listening if and when they want to share.
  • Ask if you can help connect them to supports. If yes, refer to the networks and practitioners recommended above.
For Practitioners

Language as a tool

  • Checkout the BCCDC Language Guide to get familiar with inclusive, respectful language. Using the right language can help foster good relationships while avoiding stigmatizing language, ignorance, and bias.
  • Refer to this glossary guide (p3-5) for additional terminology guidance.

Reach out

  • Consider reaching out to survivor networks listed above under “For SOGIECE Survivors” to see how you can help as a practitioner.
  • Reach out to affirming therapists who have experience working with survivors (see above) for guidance on how to provide the best therapy to this population.

Provide services and seek feedback

  • Offer complimentary counselling to survivors for a limited time and seek feedback via advertising on your website
  • Contact survivor support networks to advertise your free services for a limited time

Get up to speed on the ins and outs of conversion therapy in Canada

  • Visit No Conversion Canada to learn more about the facts on conversion therapy
  • Read this blog to see suggestions for practitioners on how to promote positive experiences for 2S/LGBTQ2+ individuals
  • View the latest research on the nature of convertion therapy in Canada

Tune in virtually to the CBRC Summit on October 27-29, 2021 – an annual knowledge exchange and capacity building conference on sexual and gender minority health. Register here.

References

  1. Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity [Internet]. Vancouver: N.d. SOGIECE; N.d. [cited 2021 Sept 22]. Available from https://cgshe.ca/sogiece/
  2. Salway T, Juwono S, Klassen B, Ferlatte O, Ablona A, Pruden H, Morgan J, Kwag M, Card K, Knight R, Lachowsky NJ. Experiences with sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapy practices among sexual minority men in Canada, 2019–2020. PLoS One [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Sept 22];16(6):e0252539. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0252539 DOI:
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252539
  3. Salway T, Ferlatte O, Gesink D, Lachowsky NJ. Prevalence of exposure to sexual orientation change efforts and associated sociodemographic characteristics and psychosocial health outcomes among Canadian sexual minority men. Can J Psychiatry [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Sept 22];65(7):502-509. Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0706743720902629 DOI: 10.1177/0706743720902629
  4. No Conversion Canada [Internet]. Legislation Map; N.d. [cited 2021 Sept 23]. Available from https://www.noconversioncanada.com/legislation-map
  5. CBC News [Internet]. Toronto: 2021. Yukon's new gender-affirming care policy is most comprehensive in Canada, experts say; 2021 Mar 18 [cited 2021 Sept 23]. Available from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/yukon-gender-affirming-comprehensive-1.5953126
  6. Government of Canada [Internet]. Bill C-6: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy). 2021 Sept 1. Available from https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/pl/charter-charte/c6b.html
  7. Parliament of Canada [Internet]. Vote no. 175: 43rd Parliament, 2nd session. 2021 June 22. Available from https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en/votes/43/2/175?view=member
  8. Kinitz DJ, Goodyear T, Dromer E, Gesink D, Ferlatte O, Knight R, Salway T. “Conversion Therapy” Experiences in Their Social Contexts: A Qualitative Study of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Change Efforts in Canada. Can J Psychiatry [Internet]. 2021 [citerd 2021 Sept 23]:1-11. Available from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/07067437211030498 DOI: 10.1177/07067437211030498