Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House and speak on the important issue of conversion therapy, and why this practice should be banned in Canada.
Across the country, we have seen many provinces and municipalities take appropriate measures to address this issue, as well as the steps taken by the federal government to introduce this into the Criminal Code.
I have had the honour to participate in multiple conversations with members of the LGBTQ+ community from coast to coast. I have participated in round tables, lectures and, of course, pride parades. Some of my encounters left a huge mark on me personally. Those encounters are what will live with me and have made me an ally of the LGBTQ2+ community.
One of the places I think about from my visits, and that I have spoken about multiple times, is the OK2BME program in Kitchener, Ontario. I was fortunate enough to visit this group, where all the youth are under the age of 19 and come from an area within an hour and a half of that region. They go there to talk about who they were, who they are and how they see their futures. Many go there for a safe place to have a conversation: to talk to people in similar situations to theirs and to rely on people. It is so important we have these types of organizations, opportunities and programs to allow youth to talk to people who are in the same situations they are. Many of them are going through times where they are not expressing who they are to their friends, families or teachers because they are not sure and have a lot of self-doubt. Open places like the OK2BME program are something I will continue to advocate for.
Like the deputy House leader for Parliament, who I see across the way, I grew up in different times. I think of growing up in the eighties and the number of friends I have now who have come out and said they are gay or lesbian. Back in the eighties, I did not know one of my best friends was a lesbian. When I think about it today, does it matter? I love her to the depths of who she is. She is one of the greatest women I know in this world. It does not matter who she loves, because at the end of the day, I love her for who she is. I look at the way her parents embraced her, and they love her for who she is.
However, I know when she goes out in the general public there is that fear of feeling shame. There is that fear of telling people. As I said, I grew up in the eighties, when one did not share that type of information with people. It was expected for girls to like boys. Things have changed, and we have become much more aware that we do not all have to fit in that little box and all be the same.
I also think of the great work being done by PFLAG. A couple of years ago, I went to Richmond Hill and sat down with the PFLAG organization. There were children in the process of transitioning, and children who had just come out to their parents had come to PFLAG with them to have these discussions. We sat down together, ate pizza and celebrated somebody's birthday. It was such an incredible place, where everybody felt safe and that they were part of something.
It made me ask myself whether there was ever a time I felt I was not included. I have been very fortunate, because I am able to go into places and say, “I am Karen,” and that is all good with me. However, a lot of people have self-doubt, which is caused by not being supported for who they are. I think of those people who have to walk alone in the world, and how we can do better. For me, it is important to make sure those safe spaces are available: places like PFLAG, where people can talk in groups and where parents can talk with their children. It is not a mediation, just a place someone can go to listen, talk and hear the stories of other families and the challenges they have gone through.
As a government, it is important we look at continuing to support those types of programs. If we are looking at more actions we need to do after the conversion therapy ban is passed, we need to look at what the next steps are in order to make sure we can get this work done. I say this because we need to look at the mental health component of this issue.
Mental Health Awareness Month is going on right now, and we have to understand the correlation between mental health and the LGBTQ community. I looked at some of the statistics, and I sat back and thought about how that was not me. According to statistics, one in four members of the LGBTQ community who are students has been physically harassed, and six in 10 have been verbally abused. That means over half of the people have been victimized at some time just because of their sexuality. There is no place for that.
We have to look at the fact that people in this community have been body shamed. They feel isolated. Discrimination and bullying occur. There is a lack of support from some families. We know that not every family is 100% on board, and that comes with time as well. I am very hopeful. I am that Pollyanna who believes that we can do better and that we can have hope, so I believe in helping families go through these challenging times together. We have to be realistic: these things happen. We also have to look at the predisposition toward mental health challenges as well. I think that, if people are already uncomfortable with who they are, it is just adding onto it regarding their sexuality. There is a double prong here that is attacking them.
I also think of a couple of friends I sat down with about a month ago. We were talking about sexuality. My two friends are partners, Rick and Lee, and they do not know I am talking about them today. Rick and Lee and I have these really open discussions, and it is great, because we are in the same generation. I love to talk to them about music and cooking and everything, but after a really broad discussion I asked them how it was, growing up in the eighties. My one friend, Rick, said that he would not be here if he had come out in the eighties. He would not have been able to survive. He stated he would have taken his own life.
I think about where we are in 2020. How can people feel that they would have to take their own lives because of being members of the LGBTQ community? How could someone feel so lost and isolated that life was not worth living, just because of their sexuality? This has to be moved out of that frame. That is, not for me, a place that we can be in. This is where we have to understand that love is love, and I will continue to advocate on that.
I look at Lee, who is Rick's partner. They have been married for a number of years, and he said to me that he dated lots of girls, but as soon as he was done high school he went on and actually was himself. I think we have to understand, especially if we are looking at our teens, that when people are in high school, they are in a fish bowl. I went to a school of about 800 students in St. Thomas, Ontario, and everybody knew everybody's business. Once people are able to get into the real world, where there are not 800 people walking by and seeing what their business is, it may be a bit easier for them to live their lives with freedom, but we know, especially in those teenage years, that it is really difficult.
It is such a hard time to fit in, as it is. Everybody is on Twitter. Everybody is on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. I have watched it a couple of times, but everybody is on there. Life is cycling so quickly now for our youth, and there are already so many mental health challenges that they are coming across, so adding sexual orientation is something that should not have to be part of that conversation any longer. They should be accepted, and they should be loved for who they are.
Do I have two minutes? I could talk for 20. It is really bad when my friends on their side are trying to quiet me up, because they think I talk so much. Regardless, I think that is what makes me a good advocate: if one is willing to talk and have these conversations, that is what it is.
I think when we talk about conversion therapy, there has been a lot of discussion on what that actually is. For myself, talk therapy is what I do. I talk things out. Some people may say that talking is conversion therapy, or that it is something else. For me the ability to talk and work through my problems with the people I love and respect the most is important, regardless of how difficult those topics are. As a parent, I have had multiple difficult situations brought upon me or that I have had to discuss, and we all need that person and that support group around us. Being able to talk is really important.
I see that many members, and I have heard members of the government also, indicate there is that concern about religion. I will be honest: I was mad at my husband about six years ago, and the first person I turned to was my pastor. Members would not see me as a really strong religious person, but the pastor was the person who knew me. He knew me and my family sitting in the benches, where we sat as a family all the time, and I was able to speak to him as a confidant. I think sometimes that is where the confusion will come from, in this discussion. He was not trying to convert me: he was a confidant because he knew who I was. He has seen me actively participate in the church, youth groups and a variety of things like that, so I am proud to speak on this. I think we should all have this really important discussion, because at the end of the day, every life matters, especially those of the LGBTQ community.