In a major victory for sexual minority advocates, Canada has banned conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law makes it a crime to subject anyone in Canada to conversion therapy, profit from the practice, or take a Canadian outside the country to undergo conversion therapy elsewhere, like the U.S., which has not banned the practice.
On Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “It’s official: Our government’s legislation banning the despicable and degrading practice of conversion therapy has received Royal Assent–meaning it is now law. LGBTQ2 Canadians, we’ll always stand up for you and your rights.”
Canada is the latest country to ban conversion therapy. The pseudo-scientific practice ranges from religious counseling to electric shock therapy and has been associated with “severe psychological distress,” according to JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, which is a peer-reviewed medical journal published 48 times a year by the American Medical Association. PGN has previously reported on conversion therapy and the need for a nationwide ban in the U.S.
Other countries that have banned conversion therapy are Germany, Malta, Ecuador, Brazil and Taiwan. Some countries’ bans are for minors only, like in Germany. Others, like Malta, have passed bans for all citizens. In addition, the French parliament voted to ban conversion therapy on December 14.
In the U.S., 20 states and Washington D.C. have banned conversion therapy for minors. Florida, Alabama and Georgia are in a federal judicial circuit with an injunction that blocks conversion therapy bans. New Jersey was the first state to ban conversion therapy. Pennsylvania does not ban the practice, but there are bans in some cities, like Philadelphia. But people can cross the county border and find services. And almost no bans include religious-based conversion therapies.
Commission says Hungarian law violates human rights standards
On December 14, the Venice Commission, a panel of experts of the human rights body Council of Europe, declared that Hungary’s law banning teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues in schools violates international human rights standards.
The legislation, which passed in June and created manifold problems for LGBT+ people in Hungary, has also garnered criticism from the European Union.
In July, the European Parliament voted for immediate legal action over the new law banning any depiction of homosexuality to those under 18.
The new legislation “breached EU values, principles and law,” said the Members of the European Parliament, and noted that the law was “another intentional and premeditated example of the gradual dismantling of fundamental rights in Hungary.”
The law bans the use of any written or other materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender transition at schools. The rationale for the law is to prevent child abuse.
PGN has been reporting on the growing right-wing radicalization of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban for two years. Orban previously received strong support from former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who engaged Orban to be a signatory on Pompeo’s Geneva Consensus Declaration which declared there is “no international right to abortion,” a flagrantly religious stance rejected by U.S. allies.
The declaration also used “pro-family” language, supporting the “role of the family as foundational to society and as a source of health, support, and care.” All mention of LGBT people and families was excluded.
On Dec. 14, the constitutional law experts of the Venice Commission concluded that “the amendments are not in accordance with international human rights standards and fail to ensure that children get access to objective and non-biased information on gender identity and sexual orientation.”
In its assessment, the panel asserted, “On the contrary: the amendments contribute to creating a “threatening environment where LGBTQI children can be subject to health-related risks, bullying and harassment.”
The panel added, “The amendments leave space only for one-sided and biased teaching, opening doors to stigmatization and discrimination of LGBTQI people.”
Orban faces re-election in 2022 and is presenting himself as the defender of traditional Christian values against “LGBT ideology.” Throughout the summer, Orban had government billboards placed nationwide that queried: “Are you afraid your child could be exposed to sexual propaganda?”
Orban’s government claims the anti-LGBT+ law is meant to protect children, not target the LGBT+ community.
Vatican apologizes for removing gay rights link
On Dec. 13 a Vatican department apologized for “causing pain to the entire LGBTQ community” by removing from its website a link to resource material from a Catholic gay rights advocacy group.
The link was to a webinar from New Ways Ministry, a U.S. based group which ministers to LGBTQ Catholics who feel excluded or marginalized by the Church.
The apology was issued by the website of the Synod of Bishops. The synod is organizing a “two-year global consultative process” in advance of a meeting in Rome in 2023 which may change the way Roman Catholic Church makes decisions. The synod issued the apology and restored the link over the weekend after criticism on social media.
Thierry Bonaventura, communications manager for the synod, took personal responsibility for removing the links, saying on the synod’s website that it was due to “internal procedural reasons.”
“This brought pain to the entire LGBTQ community, who once again felt left out,” he wrote. “I feel that I must apologise to all LGBTQ people and to members of the New Ways Ministry for the pain caused.”
Synod proponents see the initiative called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” as an opportunity to change the Church’s power dynamics and give a greater voice to lay Catholics, including women, and people on the margins of society, including LGBT+.
Conservative Catholics and clergy are concerned the synod could erode the hierarchical structure of the 1.3 billion member Church and alter traditional doctrine.
The New Ways Ministry webinar of more than an hour was hosted by a professor form Fordham University in New York. Its topics included how LGBTQ Catholics can contribute to the consultation process ahead of the 2023 Rome meeting.
New Ways Ministry was founded in 1977 by Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Roman Catholic sister, and Fr. Robert Nugent, a Roman Catholic priest. The ministry expanded their existing work of writing and speaking on homosexuality in the years following 1971, with the aim of creating acceptance for gay and lesbian Catholics within the Roman Catholic Church. The group has since included all LGBTQ people in its ministry.
The Catholic Church teaches that “homosexuals should be treated with respect” and that while “homosexual tendencies are not sinful, homosexual actions are.”
The Synod’s apology and restoration is the latest in a series of mixed signals sent by the Vatican about the role Catholic LGBT+ people can have in the Church.