Canadian Gay Conversion Therapy Survivor, Matt Ashcroft

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A Think Queerly Leadership Interview — TQ123

“Conversion therapy is the false belief that diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or gender expressions are illnesses that can be cured through “treatment”. This backwards belief is an abusive and harmful practice that preys on the LGBTQ2+ community, and in particular LGBTQ2+ children and youth. Conversion therapy does not change sexual orientation or gender identity, it is not effective. It has devastating impacts on its victims: anxiety, depression, self-hatred, suicide or suicidal thoughts and many other psychological and social issues.”

No Conversion Canada

Recently, the Canadian Federal Government introduced legislation to criminalize conversion therapy in Canada which proposes five new criminal code offences related to conversion therapy that include (source):

  • Causing a minor to undergo conversion therapy
  • Removing a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad
  • Causing a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will
  • Profiting from providing conversion therapy
  • Advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy

Not everyone is happy about this legislation. Bill C-8, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code (conversion therapy), had its first reading in the House of Commons on March 9th, 2020, and to be expected a conservative religious organization believes they have the “religious right” to change someone’s sexual orientation:

“If the law is passed, Campagne Québec-Vie, an anti-abortion organization, said it would challenge the changes in court in the name of religious freedom. If a person feels uncomfortable with their sexual orientation, who is the government to tell them […they] have no right to change their orientation?” organization president Georges Buscemi told Radio-Canada in French.” 

Source

The above quotation from Buscemi shows the imperfect logic of his argument and demonstrates the bigger challenge with people understanding why this legislation must pass. The government is not telling anyone that they don’t have the right to change their orientation. The government is upholding a humane truth and proposing to make it illegal for someone else or an organization to try and change someone else’s orientation.

The difference in the language of Bill C-8 is both subtle and important.

Religious fundamentalists and those who “believe” being anything other than straight gives them the right to fuck with someone’s mind, which they claim to be “religious freedom,” is anything but freedom; nor is it religious freedom. Instead, that is ignorance, arrogance, and prejudice all rolled into one big bag of nasty. Unfortunately, it’s also an aspect of who we are as human beings.

The problem with the religious mindset with respect to conversion therapy and not baking cakes for a gay or lesbian wedding is much bigger than “religious freedom”. If anyone needs conversion therapy for the betterment of society it is a religious fundamentalist — someone who believes through years of patterning and behavioural modification that this one book that they call the bible is the word and law of a fictitious being in the sky.

Believe in a god if you want, but blind faith — which is reason without question or logic — that you seek protection for in the name of “religious freedom” is the core of conversion therapy and a Catch-22 at best. Conversion therapy is an evil form of behavioural modification for no reason other than to force another person to blindly follow a secularized religion based on hegemonic patriarchal privilege and dominance.

Ok, now that I’ve shared my rant, let’s hear from someone who has first-hand experience with Conversion Therapy.

Matt Ashcroft is a conversion therapy survivor.

Matt Ashcroft headshot

Matt is a part of No Conversion Canada which works to end conversion therapy in Canada. He has appeared on various media outlets speaking on this issue, including communicating with politicians to make Canada a safer place for LGBTQ2+ people. Matt recently spoke at the House of Commons in Ottawa about how introducing Bill C-8 protects queer and trans folks. Matt goes by the pronouns he/him and you can find him on Twitter and Facebook as @Mattash89.

In this Think Queerly Leadership Interview I speak with Matt about,

  • How trying to win the approval of his father made him seek out religion.
  • Why this in part led him to become involved with conversion therapy.
  • The years he spent in a private Facebook group (from about 18 to 23 years old) speaking with about 300 other men who classified as having “unwanted same-sex attractions,” how toxic that environment was with mental health issues and shaming, and how and why he was unable to leave.
  • His experience when he attended a so-called “life-changing” conversion therapy camp weekend (Brother’s Road: Journey into Manhood — the subject of the Vice documentary video, below) in the US when he was 23.
  • Why he remained connected with the weekend group for about 18 months, even though he no longer believed in the teachings or process.
  • Matt’s involvement with “No Conversion Canada” and his media scrum on Parliament Hill when the Canadian government’s tabled the first reading of Bill C-8 to ban conversion therapy in Canada.
  • And, what to do if you want to leave a conversion therapy program, or if you know someone you care about who needs help.

Listen to the complete episode

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Matt’s speech at the media scrum on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada

Here is the complete video of the press conference with Justice Minster David Lametti joined by Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger on Parliament Hill to speak with reporters about the government’s legislation to ban conversion therapy in Canada.

Vice documentary, “Living Through Gay Conversion Therapy”

Helpful Links & Resources

By Darren Stehle

Darren is a leadership coach in Toronto, Canada who helps his clients to connect and embrace their uniqueness and freely create the life they want. He writes and podcasts regularly about Queer Leadership.