TORONTO - During her formative years as a transgender woman — or girl, really — Erika Muse says she was subjected to conversion therapy, which left her depressed, suicidal and with a mere lingering shred of self-esteem.
The treatment is roundly condemned, but still practised by some, says an Ontario New Democrat seeking to make the so-called therapy illegal. Cheri DiNovo's private member's bill would ban any attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of someone 18 and under.
Muse, now 26, came out as trans at age 16 and sought treatment to both work through associated issues and get medication to help her become a woman. She was sent to someone billed as an expert in trans issues, but for the next eight years he refused to prescribe medication, leaving her in a body she hated, and did not treat her trans identity as real, she says.
"The sessions were not therapeutic but abusive," Muse says. "They led to trauma about my body and a lack of faith in myself. I often left feeling violated and hurt."
Muse says her therapist billed under OHIP — the province's health insurance plan — not specifically for conversion therapy but for general therapy. DiNovo wants to ban conversion therapy for anyone 18 and under, and delist it from OHIP for those over 18.
But Health Minister Eric Hoskins said there is no OHIP coverage for that type of therapy.
He spoke in supportive terms of DiNovo's efforts, but said there are already measures in place to crack down on inappropriate practices.
"I would encourage any patient or individual that is aware of a health-care provider providing this type of intervention that they report that individual to the (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario)," he said last week.
"CPSO would see it as almost certainly an act of professional misconduct."
Dr. Joey Bonifacio, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children's transgender youth clinic, said doctors play a very important role in the lives of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) youth, who face elevated risks of depression, substance abuse and suicide.
"Very often the first people who are involved when a child or teen identifies as LGBTQ is their primary care provider," he said.
"We readily see these families with children who identify as transgendered desperately looking for guidance. I see the young adults who have depression and are cutting after meeting a homophobic therapist."
The bill, which is up for second reading at the legislature on April 2, would allow someone like Muse to bring a complaint forward and the therapist could be charged, DiNovo said.
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited or queer is who one is," DiNovo said. "To tell a child that who they are is wrong, we consider abusive."
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