Some tough questions about bans on ‘conversion therapy’


John Carpay, The Interim

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared in 1969 that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” and that the government should ignore “what’s done in private between adults.” On that basis, his Liberal government proceeded to remove sodomy from the Criminal Code.

Today, 50 years later, some Canadians believe that government should be keenly interested in “what’s done in private between adults” – this time not in bedrooms but in the offices of psychologists, therapists, and clergy.

Ken Williams is one of the former gays and lesbians who challenge the popular and politically correct narrative surrounding bans on so-called “conversion therapy.” Williams wasn’t happy with same-sex attractions being a part of his life. In the name of true diversity, his narrative needs to be honoured just as much as anyone else’s.

Williams tells his story as follows: “I didn’t fit in with the boys, as a child. They didn’t seem to like me, and neither did I. So from first grade, I began to live every day in a fantasy world of co-dependent fixation on whichever boy in my life I saw as the picture-perfect male. It was how I affirmed myself and coped with a life of hopelessness and self-hatred.

“I began a pursuit of my true sexual identity in 1987 … I encountered God in areas and ways that transformed me. I couldn’t fathom breaking free of my addictions or ever finding a woman sexually attractive, let alone becoming married to a woman, enjoying sex with her, and fathering four children…until a life in Christ became deeply experiential for me.”

Based on his own experiences of transformation and healing, Williams asks some tough questions of those who want to make it illegal for people who struggle with same-sex attraction and gender identity confusion to explore a broad range of options: “What gives you the right to decide what I would like to pursue with my sexuality? Why in the world would you, or a politician or a judge, decide what therapy I should or should not be able to get?

“I hope you’re not getting your truth … from a Hollywood movie,” stated Williams at a recent news conference. Williams may have been referring to the 2018 Hollywood movie based on Garrard Conley’s book Boy Erased: A Memoir. The son of a Baptist pastor, deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, Conley was pressured into attending a church-supported conversion therapy program. The movie depicts a harsh, brutal and simplistic 12-Step Program pushing a “fake it till you make it” approach to acquiring stereotypically masculine exterior traits.

Having been subjected to cruel and mean-spirited “therapy,” Conley might ask “Who are you to say I was not born gay, or to declare that I am able to change my sexual orientation?” Conley is not alone. Many people with unwanted same-sex attractions have not experienced changes in their sexual feelings, even when they pursued change entirely on their own initiative, without the pressure from parents that Conley faced. He and others believe that attempting to change sexual orientation is not only a waste of time, but destructive and harmful.

The opposite perspectives of Williams and Conley are only two among many. Other people, like Canadian Catholic author and speaker Hudson Byblow, would emphasize chastity, or, moral purity, which is not the same as celibacy or abstinence. In sharing his story publicly, Hudson describes a new-found freedom and hope in pursuing chastity, and simply hopes others might open their hearts to exploring that as well. He has also come to know about efforts to suppress narratives like his, based on the misleading claim that “imposing” the virtue of chastity does “violence” to people. He responds with the clarification that the virtue of chastity is not imposed but proposed, and that he and others have experienced anything but violence against themselves in pursuing chastity. If anything, says Hudson, the violence is done in limiting people’s options for self-determination in this realm.

Leanne Payne, Andrew Comiskey, Dean Bailey and other authors have written about this issue. In her 1981 book The Broken Image, Payne writes about her experiences in seeing healing prayer bring powerful change to people struggling with same-sex attraction. Comiskey authored Pursuing Sexual Wholeness – How Jesus heals the homosexualin 1989.

While growing up, Comiskey felt rejected by his two older brothers, reinforcing an increasingly profound sense of unworthiness as a male, as well as a perceived inability to compete and succeed on male turf. Dean Bailey, author of Beyond the Shades of Gray – Because Homosexuality is a Symptom, Not a Solution writes: “I will readily admit to anyone that turning away from homosexuality is a very difficult road to travel.” Bailey claims that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but rather Holiness (following God) and Wholeness (Christ’s salvation and healing).

These Christian authors promote a tender and gentle approach to the healing of childhood trauma. They would be appalled at the methods and tactics employed in the Boy Erased book and movie, and would immediately denounce such “conversion therapy” as harmful.

Today’s proposed bans on “conversion therapy” in Canada and the U.S. are not limited to discredited practices such as shock therapy. Rather, some bans are worded so broadly that they invite the government into every psychologist’s office, every therapy session, and every pastoral or spiritual counselling session that clergy have with members of their congregations. Ambiguous laws are unconstitutional because they do not allow the public to understand their legal rights, and because they do not allow the government to know the limits of state authority.

Fifty years after Trudeau proclaimed tolerance for “what’s done in private between adults,” it’s now OK for consenting adults to engage in the sexual practices of their choice. But soon it might not be OK for consenting adults to discuss those sexual practices freely if their private conversation heads in a “wrong” direction that challenges currently popular beliefs about sexuality. By making certain private conversations between consenting adults illegal, bans on “conversion therapy” invite the government into private spaces that ought to remain private.