Calgary’s city council has unanimously approved a conversion therapy ban to protect LGBTQ residents from the practice, recognized as harmful by the World Health Organization and the Canadian Psychological Association.
With the final approval process for the new by-law slated for this week, opponents are making a final push to oppose the ban, including a misleading flyer campaign that hides its homophobic agenda behind the rhetoric of free speech and “voluntary choices.”
The campaign was organized by one Tom Lipp on behalf of the socially conservative Christian Heritage Party (CHP). Each door-hanger-style flyer proclaims, in large high-contrast capital letters: “NO BAN ON CONVERSION. PROTECT CALGARY’S FREEDOM. TELL YOUR COUNCILLOR.”
The design makes it easy to overlook the tiny text underneath each point that makes the campaign’s insidious allegations clear: “They are actually trying to ban private conversations,” the ad insists. “Freedom of speech is essential to democracy.”
How quickly the story has shifted from banning psychologically harmful therapies to imperiling the very fabric of Canadian democracy!
The flyers go into more detail on the reverse:
The City of Calgary is proposing to ban any service to help reduce sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex, falsely calling it “conversion therapy.”
This ban would limit the private conversations a person can have with their own chosen counselor.
It would even apply to religious conversations and make it illegal to encourage others to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Matthew).
We stand against any coercive and abusive attempts to change individual’s [sic] sexual orientation, and we support the freedom of all people, including LGBTQ Calgarians to make voluntary choices, without interference from government in their private lives.
The idea that opponents of conversion therapy want to make the Lord’s Prayer illegal is absurd (and also relies on the assumption that same-sex relationships are an inherently evil temptation). But in a society where homophobia and transphobia are still shockingly common, and where LGBTQ people can still face total rejection from loved ones based on their identity, it’s hard to imagine an effort to change someone’s orientation that’s not coercive and abusive.
The manipulative rhetoric has got some of the homeowners targeted feeling furious. In the words of one such resident, Chelsea Drinkall:
There is no way something like this should still be allowed in the city. We are a pretty progressive city and it’s insane to me that it hasn’t been prohibited yet. It really angered me and made me get more involved, probably not the reaction they were looking for when they were handing the flyer out.
Whoops. Maybe we should be encouraging the marketing efforts of the Christian Heritage Party.
That’s facetious, of course, because their views on conversion therapy are only one of a host of reactionary, anti-science, anti-social takes supported by the CHP. Their website prominently features hot takes on such subjects as mandatory vaccinations, gun control laws, and the dangers of 5G network towers. Their party platform is full of familiar conservative dog-whistles like “defend life” and “freedom of conscience.”
Party leader Rod Taylor had this to say about the proposed by-law and conversion therapy bans more generally:
Proposed legislation would make criminals of doctors, pastors, and counselors simply for offering affirmative counseling and prayer. In any other category of human behaviour, placing such restrictions on the freedom of speech and conscience of doctors and counselors would be considered unconstitutional. After all, the doctor or counselor is trying to help. The person being counseled or treated is asking for help. And the goal of the therapy is to restore clients to a sense of well-being and contentment with the reality of their biological characteristics. What could be wrong with that?
But the entire problem with conversion therapy is that its goal is not to restore the client’s well-being or contentment; it is to make them cisgender and heterosexual. Their own sense of well-being is at best a secondary concern.
And medical professionals who disregard evidence-based practice to recommend treatments that have been proven actively harmful should have their freedom to do so curtailed, both by professional associations and by the law. They are harming people.
Shone Thistle, board president for Calgary Pride, says the flyer’s allegations are untruthful:
People will be able to seek counsel and support that is non-judgmental from anyone they choose and that could include a church or a licensed psychologist, it’s entirely up to them.
There is no such thing as de-transitioning. There could be another transition in their life but that is entirely up to them. This bylaw provides the opportunity for self-determination. It prevents people from playing games with other people’s lives.
Those with something to say about Calgary’s conversion therapy ban are encouraged to offer their input to City Council via online submission before March 25, when the final approval for the by-law is set to take place.
Here’s hoping people of goodwill see through the fear-mongering rhetoric and speak up to drown out the haters’ vocal minority.