Kingston City Council to discuss motion to denounce conversion therapy

Councillor Bridget Doherty taking her Oath of Office on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. Photo by Tori Stafford.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, City Council will discuss a motion to denounce the practice of conversion therapy throughout the City of Kingston.

The new motion, brought forward by Councillor Bridget Doherty, seeks to support the federal bill to criminalize the practice, Bill C-6, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Conversion Therapy), as well as to formally denounce conversion therapy as a City Council.

This is due to conversion therapy — which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual — being “a dangerous and harmful practice that perpetuates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to the motion. The motion also seeks to have City Staff work with health agencies including Kingston Community Health Centre (KCHC) and KFL&A Addiction and Mental Health Services (AMHS) to develop a local support system for any member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. If passed, the motion will stipulate that Staff report back to Council on the latter concept no later than September 30, 2021.

The harmful effects of conversion therapy are well-documented internationally.

“Conversion therapy practices are unethical and immoral because they imply that LGBTQ2 lives are less valuable, less desirable, and less worth living than heterosexual or cisgender persons. Ultimately, these practices believe that being an LGBTQ2 person is a disorder, sin, or disease that must be fixed, cured, healed, or repaired,” states a report on conversion therapy in Canada published by the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations on Human Rights.

For Doherty, the new motion came about after media reports regarding Third Day Worship Centre (TDWC) exposed the independent church for engaging in conversion therapy. The church has come under much scrutiny regarding its sermons and practices, including anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, Islamophobia, COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the invitation of a guest speaker from out of region during the pandemic, and the seriously threatening practice of conversion therapy.

“Ben Rogers’ story, that was very concerning,” Doherty said in reference to Global Kingston’s coverage of the questionable practices at TDWC, which included Ben Rogers explaining how he was the victim of conversion therapy and the subsequent effects of that experience.

“We have to respond as a city and ensure that things like that don’t happen in our community,” she said.

Doherty said that, over her Christmas holidays, she spent much of her time researching conversion therapy, its impacts, and the studies published by academics, activists, and LGBTQ+ organizations. She found that several municipalities in western Canada have already banned conversion therapy. Those motions occurred well in advance of the federal government moving to criminalize the practice, making the situation in those cases different than that of Kingston City Council at present. Additionally, Ontario has already banned conversion therapy, Doherty said, which makes a stronger case for her motion.

Looking over the wording of some of the western municipalities’ motions to ban conversion therapy, Doherty said some of them were a lot stronger than others. She also reached out to some sitting councillors in Ottawa who are members of the LGBTQ+ community to discuss the wording. Finally, Doherty worked with the City of Kingston’s Legal Department to finalize the wording of the motion (available on page 18 here).

“The timing is just different. Now that it looks like it’s going to be in the Criminal Code, it’s a totally different story,” she said of her motion in contrast to those that have passed in other municipalities.

“But it’s still important to acknowledge what we learn is going on in our community, and it’s important to send a clear message that it’s not OK. Conversion therapy is a very harmful practice. It leads to all sorts of issues. It can easily lead to depression, and homelessness, and then worst case, of course, is suicide, but that does happen. And we can’t ignore that,” she continued.

“And so I went on that journey and the wording of this motion is where the journey landed.”

In order to table the motion, it must be seconded by another member of City Council. Doherty said she reached out to Mayor Bryan Paterson to second the motion, and that he immediately supported her.

“Having the Mayor second it, it sends a strong message that it’s Mayor and Council… we care about everybody in our community, and we will not ignore it if there are practices that are that harmful taking place,” Doherty said.

Paterson, who is a former member of TDWC, explained why he wanted to second the motion.

“Recently, my faith has been in the spotlight and perhaps some misconceptions about my beliefs. I have and will continue to support our LGBTQ community and sincerely believe in creating a community where everyone feels valued, supported and included. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that support, to foster a community of inclusion and respect, and more importantly bring awareness to the very serious and harmful practice of conversion therapy,” Paterson said.

“I’ve stated publicly before that I believe the province and the federal government have the proper jurisdiction to bring about legislation that is effective and enforceable. That said, I’m grateful for the opportunity to voice my support for the federal bill,” he continued. “I think it’s great opportunity for myself and council to show our support for an inclusive community and continue an important dialogue.”

Councillor Doherty encouraged the public to watch the discussion that transpires at Council’s meeting tomorrow night.

“A person’s gender is part of who they are, and it is very harmful to try to change who a person is.” she said.

Doherty added that if conversion therapy is happening in our community, council needs to “take a stand.”

“I really hope that people will listen. Even the conversation around the horseshoe in such a public forum is an important conversation for people to hear.”

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