Free to Care falls short in lobby against conversion therapy initiative
by Jack Taylor
When a bylaw interferes in the most intimate parts of people’s lives – their spirituality and their sexuality, then it is time to take a stand. So believed Free to Care founder, Graeme Lauber. He was concerned that Calgary City Council had pulled a significant ‘bait and switch’ when it took the assumptions of people that ‘conversion therapy’ is a practice of shaming and abuse based on sexual orientation and banned even the sharing of opinion and belief around the definition of marriage and the desires of some same-sex-attracted individuals to gain support in managing feelings.
In a vote of 14-1, the City Council still moved ahead with the bylaw The city’s statement said, “With this, the City of Calgary initiates new regulations to protect Calgarians, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, to continue to be a city that is welcoming for all, committed to supporting equality and human rights.” Calgary is the seventh Alberta municipality to ban the practice. The others include Spruce Grove, Rocky Mountain House, Edmonton, St. Albert, Wood Buffalo and Strathcona County.
A record number of submissions to the council showed that this issue stimulated significant discussions on both sides. 120 speakers over two days shared, while hundreds of other submissions were filed for councillors to consider. Fines of up to $10,000, or one-year jail time, for violating the bylaw may have raised attention. City Council claimed that churches could teach their beliefs as long as they were “non-judgmental.”
The breadth of the definition was at the heart of much discussion. The city holds that “Conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change, repress or discourage a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates (a) to a person’s social, medical or legal gender transition; or (b) to a person’s non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of their identity or development.”
Free to Care
Lauber identifies as same-sex-attracted but is a believer married to a woman. He launched Free to Care as “a way to build bridges between Christians and other groups in Canadian society and works to protect the rights of individuals to determine their own understanding of their sexuality and gender identity.” He is also concerned that if his own marriage was in trouble then he would not be free to seek counsel. Momentum and energy developed when numerous Canadian city councils began interfering in the sexual and relational lives of citizens.
Lauber says he doesn’t believe that the government “has a role to play in the most intimate aspects of our lives.” He cites former justice minister and prime minister Pierre Trudeau when he said the state has no business in the bedrooms of its citizens. “In the end, this bylaw is rooted in the belief that our sexual feelings are “who we are” – that our attractions are somehow defining for us. The reality is that not everyone sees themselves as defined by their sexuality, but those people cannot get help and support – that will be unavailable to them under the bylaw.”
The Mayor seemed to be trying to allege fears when he said, “This isn’t about someone seeking out advice, someone questioning their identity, this is not about talking to your pastor, it’s not about meeting with people who have gone through a journey in advance — regardless of the outcome of that journey,” Nenshi said.
A difficult path
Several significant stories of gay and lesbian people (and trans) who had come to follow Jesus in the area of their sexual practice were presented. “These are people who have followed a difficult path of pursuing Jesus’ wisdom for their lives at great cost, and they are all beautiful stories. We were also able to provide legal analysis, and scientific evidence that following deeply held values rather than sexual feelings is not harmful.”
In a news release, separate from this interview, Lauber says “the bylaw prevents any kind of paid conversation or presentation, that aims to ‘repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour’. City administration themselves said in public comments that the bylaw would apply to conversations where a pastor invites someone to get counselling with them or a Christian speaker who speaks at his own church and advocates for celibacy for same-sex-attracted people outside of opposite-sex marriage.”
The city of Edmonton passed its anti-conversion therapy law in December on International Human Rights Day. Kristopher Wells, an associate professor at MacEwan University, praised the decision of the Edmonton council and stated that “this bylaw will be a model not just for municipalities in Canada, but across the world… What makes this bylaw so powerful is that it captures all forms of conversion therapy, whether they are medical, spiritual or religious. Council has sent a strong and powerful message that conversion therapy has no place in our community and will be punished to the full extent of the law.” Calgary is seeking to copy Edmonton’s model including the $10,000 fine. Vancouver was the first Canadian city to ban conversion therapy when their council passed a bylaw in June 2018.
Accessing love and support
Lauber sees his marriage to a woman as a relationship, “that has been the most important and life-giving relationship in my life. A key component to the success of my marriage has been the ability to access the love and support of other Christians for my choice to follow Jesus in my relationships and my sexuality.” It is this support that he sees is now under threat from the current conversion therapy bylaws.
His request to council was simple. “Include a provision that allows adults to consent to the counseling or other support of their choice, while at the same time making it clear that people will not be able to consent to anything that is actively harmful.” He also asked for a provision that would allow for respect for “religious and cultural traditions. Not everyone talks about sexuality in the same way, so we think that diversity of approaches needs to be respected.”
Activists against conversion therapy are now focusing their efforts at higher levels of government.
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