Editorial note: The following is a submitted op/ed piece by Councillor Nathan Townend and does not necessarily reflect the views and beliefs of Kingstonist.
I feel compelled as a municipal councillor, for the second time in less than 3 months, to speak out against recent comments made by the Member of Parliament for Hastings, Lennox and Addington, Mr. Derek Sloan, MP. I feel this obligation especially strongly now, when politicians at all levels of government must use their individual privilege and that of their office to speak out against all forms of hatred and discrimination.
The comments I am referring to were made by Mr. Sloan in a video to his supporters where he discussed his personal support for conversion therapy, and his opposition to the federal government’s piece of legislation (Bill C-8) which essentially criminalizes profiting from or advertising forms of conversion therapy. Mr. Sloan conflated conversion therapy with legitimate forms of mental health treatment, and in so doing he flagrantly mischaracterized the bill to his supporters, suggesting that the Liberals were criminalizing parents for seeking to acquire mental health intervention for their children. Mr. Sloan’s misleading diatribe is really not surprising given that his entire leadership campaign appears to be a publicity stunt to secure the favour of the socially conservative wing of the Tory party, likely to secure himself a placated (unearned and unqualified) portfolio in the next Conservative government.
To be absolutely clear, conversion therapy is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. There is nothing therapeutic about it. It is torture, plain and simple. Conversion therapy commences from the psychologically destructive position that possessing an identity anything other than cisgender and heterosexual is disordered, fundamentally flawed. Conversion therapy is essentially a rejection of the intrinsic worth and dignity of sexual and gender diversity.
The refusal to accept and affirm sexual and gender diversity in these terms, and the counter affirmation of conversion therapy itself, are both derived in large part from a decidedly anti-science worldview. The list of horrors exacted on persons who have undergone conversion therapy is both cringeworthy and heartbreaking. It is a pseudo-science, and should be viewed as backward in the way we now look to the Victorians’ obsession with female “hysteria” in the nineteenth century. There is absolutely no professional association in either the fields of medicine, psychiatry, psychology, or social work, who support or promote conversion therapy. The supporters of conversion therapy cannot be granted the benefit of even an infinitesimal amount of serious academic debate on the subject of its efficaciousness or advisability. Politicians ultimately decide public policy, and in a progressive and enlightened society, good policy decision making must be rooted in publicly funded, scholarly, evidence, not pseudo science or fundamentalist theological anthropology.
Good political leadership is as much about understanding the historical moment one is in, and responding to it in a way which attends to the needs of today, and the desires for tomorrow. All over the world right now we are witnessing uprising by those who justifiably demand their full and equal rights. Part of the reason we here have still not arrived at a fully equitable society is because we have structured social progress and the gradual extension of civil rights on a model of tolerance. There are many, many, problems with that model. Perhaps the most relevant problem in this context, is that a model of tolerance presupposes an elite who qualify as normative. When there is a standard for what qualifies as “normal,” those who exist outside of that social construction are “tolerated” and ultimately the extent of their (unequal and partial) access to, and participation in, the rights and privileges of the society is determined by their relative conformity to the “norm.” Importantly, when those who are outside the “norm” attempt to disrupt the status quo, they are labelled as “extremist” and are responded to with violence by those in power, as we are witnessing almost daily on our newsfeed.
Part of the way forward then, in building a truly equitable, plural, nonviolent, society, is to reject a constructed image of the “normal” or “ideal” and move to an embrace of radical, unconditional, love and acceptance. Though Canada has an historical and a present reality of systemic racism that it must address, this country has for the most part rejected the idea of a normative or “ideal” Canadian in its mainstream politics. We have certainly not lived up to our full responsibility in our embrace of diversity, but nevertheless we make the important claim as a nation that diversity is our strength. What Mr. Sloan and his ilk are attempting to do is manufacture and propagate an image of the ideal or normative Canadian. Unsurprisingly (considering Mr. Sloan’s politics) that ideal Canadian is white, Christian, heterosexual, and presumably owns several firearms. This is a blatant attempt to smuggle an infectious and toxic element of American politics into Canada. These attempts not only willfully ignore the moment of history which we are in, but actively seek to move full speed in the opposite direction. At a time when we should be dismantling systems of undue privilege and hegemony, Mr. Sloan wants to erect them. The critical point here is that conversion therapy is a practical extension of Mr. Sloan’s broader attempt to entrench an oppressive normativity, as conversion therapy presupposes a heteronormative universe.
In the face of such an attempt, I need to say clearly that: I affirm the (equal) worth and dignity of people of all sexual and gender identities, in all their diversity, without equivocation, or reservation. In 2020, so should any politician, at any level of government. Period.