After 16 delegations took up all of the time allotted for the April Community Wellness Committee meeting Wednesday, a second day will be required to hear all interested in speaking about a contentious agenda item involving conversion therapy.
The report before the committee, which was drafted by city administration after the city of Saskatoon approved a bylaw banning conversion, recommends Regina Mayor Sandra Masters write a letter to the federal government voicing support for Bill C-6.
Bill C-6, which has passed its second reading, aims to criminalize the practice that it defines as “to seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviours, or to change an individual’s gender identity to match the sex they were assigned at birth.”
The remaining delegates will get the chance to speak Monday at which point the committee will also debate the report.
The delegates that spoke Wednesday expressed dramatically different opinions.
Several Regina faith leaders spoke in support of the recommendations, and some said they’d like to see the city go a step further and implement a bylaw ban similar to what was done in Saskatoon.
“I have friends, who because of their Christian upbringing, have undertaken these so-called therapies. Some spent tens of thousands of dollars. In going through this harmful and painful practice they realized their issue is not with their identity but with society and the Church’s attitude towards them,” said Eastside United Church Pastor Russell Mitchell-Walker.
“It is these negative perspectives towards LGBTQ2S people that cause the most harm and leads the sexual identity and gender identity change efforts which need to be banned for the health of our community.”
Queen City for All member Kent Peterson expressed the same opinion to the committee.
“So-called conversion therapy is a cancer in our community. No matter the form, these practices are always violent, abusive, manipulative and based on deep-seated hatred and homophobia. Conversion therapy happens in our city, operating in the shadows,” Peterson said.
“A ban would send a powerful message to queer and trans young people. Supporting Bill C-6 isn’t good enough. Let me be clear – we must have a bylaw in Regina to ban this disgusting and archaic violence and abuse.”
Peterson went on to say he doesn’t see a ban as an attack on religious freedom or parental rights.
“Banning conversion therapy does not prevent people from seeking counselling. I’d be interested in a dialogue about how we can increase the availability of affirming counseling and support for queer and trans people to help them through the trauma of discrimination, homophobia and transphobia,” he added.
Speaking Thursday, Committee Chair Andrew Stevens suggested that the idea will be discussed when the meeting resumes.
“I think you’re going to see amendments and a more committed position, and I think you’re going to see requests from members of the committee for an actual municipal ban,” said Stevens.
Several other delegates voiced concern with the report’s recommendations.
Emmanuel Sanchez shared his own story growing up with sexual identity struggles and implied that a ban on conversion therapy may prevent others from receiving valuable counseling in a church setting.
“I was around five years old the first time I noticed I was attracted to the same sex. As I grew older I began to notice it more and more. I endured a lot of bullying in school at the hands of other boys. I was called ‘fag, queer and girly’. This bullying really belittled me and caused confusion. I began to question my sexual orientation and gender identity. At the age of 12 years old I severely hated myself and regretted being alive,” Sanchez said.
He said that as he grew up exploring his identity, he received support from his family, friends and faith communities.
“Though not everybody in my life agreed with the decisions I was making, they were all loving, caring and supportive of me as an individual.”
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Sanchez said that as a teenager he sought out counseling for his struggles, and also attended an “LGBTQ+ affirming church” but said those experiences didn’t give him “the support he needed”.
He said he then sought out counseling from a church pastor. He said that experience “restored his heart” and that “depression, anxiety, fear and suicidal thoughts began to lift off of me.”
He said since then he has “ceased to engage in same-sex relationships and instead sought to live my life in a way that was consistent with my faith and belief.”
“I’m not asking you to agree with our decisions. I’m simply asking that you acknowledge that people like me exist. I stand with you in your efforts to see LGBTQ+ individuals protected and loved. Therefore I ask that if you do proceed with a bylaw please create one that is well-written and truly bans coercive and abusive methods while respecting the individual’s freedom at any age to choose the type of support they want and their desired goal.”
A lawyer, Wayne Bernakevitch, suggested the issues should be left to the House of Commons to debate.
“I don’t think you need to get into it at all. The feds have it at criminal law. I don’t think the city should be engaged in getting into the family area.”
He also called Bill C-6 a “huge overreach”.
“Endorsing it in its current form – I don’t think that’s the way to go,” he said.
Speaking to Global News Thursday, committee member Terina Shaw suggested she thought the debate on a ban should remain in Ottawa as well.
“I don’t feel that we, as a municipality, should get involved with that whether we support it or don’t support it,” she said.
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