‘It was a very de­mean­ing, very hu­mil­i­at­ing process’

Con­ver­sion ther­apy sur­vivor fears pro­posed Al­berta ban won’t be enough to stop it

StarMetro Calgary - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin Maimann Evan Rad­ford

Wes­ley Jensen says the four years fol­low­ing his con­ver­sion ther­apy were the low­est point of his life.

After sev­eral ses­sions with a Mor­mon church-spon­sored coun­sel­lor in south­ern Al­berta, Jensen dated women and did ev­ery­thing he could to be “straight” in his early adult years. He be­came in­tensely de­pressed and bor­der­line sui­ci­dal, and started tak­ing an­tide­pres­sants and anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion.

“I al­ways felt like there was some­thing wrong with me,” Jensen said. “I felt very de­pressed, very anx­ious, very up­set with my­self for not be­ing able to be what my par­ents and my re­li­gion told me I should be.”

Con­ver­sion ther­apy is a con­tro­ver­sial pseudo-sci­en­tific prac­tice adopted by some re­li­gions that aims to change a per­son’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion from gay or bi­sex­ual to het­ero­sex­ual. Men, women and chil­dren who have been sub­jected to it have called con­ver­sion ther­apy dam­ag­ing, de­mean­ing and in­sid­i­ous.

The Canadian Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and the Col­lege of Al­berta Psy­chol­o­gists (CAP) op­pose the prac­tice, with CAP deputy reg­is­trar Troy Janzen say­ing sci­en­tific re­search “gen­er­ally does not sup­port that there is any ef­fi­cacy in con­ver­sion or repar­a­tive ther­apy” and some cases have shown “nega­tive out­comes.”

In Septem­ber, NDP MLA Nicole Goehring an­nounced she will in­tro­duce a bill dur­ing the fall leg­isla­tive sit­ting that seeks to ban con­ver­sion ther­apy in the prov­ince. Man­i­toba, On­tario and Nova Sco­tia, as well as sev­eral U.S. states, have out­lawed the prac­tice.

But one for­mer con­ver­sion ther­apy group leader-in-train­ing

wor­ries the plan will hardly make a dif­fer­ence.

“The ban is ob­vi­ously needed, but just ban­ning con­ver­sion ther­apy is like a small drop in a very large pud­dle,” said Jonathan Brower, a 33-year-old gay man who said he went through con­ver­sion ther­apy in Cal­gary’s evan­gel­i­cal church sys­tem.

The prob­lem starts with the language de­scrib­ing the prac­tice, Brower said. Jour­ney Canada, the Protes­tant Chris­tian or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs the groups Brower par­tic­i­pated in (for­merly called Liv­ing Wa­ters), never refers to its work as con­ver­sion ther­apy or repar­a­tive ther­apy. Dur­ing three sep­a­rate courses as a Liv­ing Wa­ters par­tic­i­pant and one as a leader-in-train­ing, Brower said the group would use phrases like “sex­ual heal­ing,” “reach­ing sex­ual whole­ness” and “re­pair­ing sex­ual bro­ken­ness.”

Jour­ney Cal­gary pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor Graeme Lauber said in an email that the group does not try to change any­one’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, de­scrib­ing Jour­ney as a com­mu­nity of peo­ple who “sub­mit our lives and be­hav­iour to what we be­lieve the Bi­ble has to say to us.” Lauber said he ex­pe­ri­ences ho­mo­sex­ual de­sires, but chooses not to act on them be­cause his com­mit­ment to his faith is more im­por­tant to him.

Brower said the pro­posed ban in its cur­rent form could make it all too easy for Jour­ney Canada to

con­tinue its prac­tices, sim­ply by declar­ing it doesn’t do con­ver­sion ther­apy.

“The teach­ers (group lead­ers) aren’t coun­sel­lors, but they’re coun­selling peo­ple with their ideas, like ‘This is what worked for me, this is a way to ap­proach that strug­gle, here are some Bi­ble verses,’” he said.

Pro­gram lit­er­a­ture that Brower used as far back as 2005 doesn’t ref­er­ence con­ver­sion ther­apy (though a 2005-06 binder of course in­struc­tions does re­fer to the “ex­gay move­ment”).

“I AL­WAYS FELT LIKE THERE WAS SOME­THING WRONG WITH ME.” Wes­ley Jensen

Bower said the ther­apy was “in­sid­i­ous” and like a sup­port group of Chris­tians try­ing to im­prove their re­la­tion­ship with God. Read the full story at thes­tar.com/cal­gary

DAVID ROSSITER FOR STARMETRO CAL­GARY

Wes­ley Jensen says the four years fol­low­ing his con­ver­sion ther­apy were the low­est point of his life.

DAVID ROSSITER/STARMETRO CAL­GARY

Wes­ley Jensen fully sup­ports the ban on con­ver­sion ther­apy, which he de­scribes as "a very de­mean­ing, very hu­mil­i­at­ing process," but oth­ers worry that prac­ti­tion­ers may avoid the ban by claim­ing what they do isn’t con­ver­sion ther­apy.

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