The City of Kingston has awarded CT Survivors Connect with a three year contract to operate a Conversion Therapy Survivors Program.

City council unanimously voted to allocate the anual $20,000 in funding to the support group founded by Ben Rodgers, a survivor of the practice within the community of Kingston’s Third Day Worship Centre.

In September, City Council approved a motion to earmark the yearly funds for conversion therapy survivors and since then have sought out proposals with the help of the United Way, receiving two as of Tuesday’s Council meeting.

A report presented to Council on Tuesday recommended CT Survivors Connect, stating that it is the only option providing a survivor to survivor service.

“Conversion therapy is dangerous. It leads to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness and suicide,” said Councillor Bridget Doherty at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Arriving at this stage has been a journey for all of us. First, we were made aware of the practice in our community, and then we learned from experts and survivors. And now we are supporting the first program in Canada.”

The support group’s founder, Ben Rodgers, has repeatedly given his thanks to Councillor Doherty for being a “soldier” in helping to grow the support network for survivors, saying she initially helped him get in front of council and has championed his efforts since that point.

He says that it demonstrates that councillors and other public servants taking a vested interest in the problems in their community really does make a difference.

“I really appreciate that, I really value that cooperation and willingness to understand,” Rodgers said.

“She took the moment, realized it was a problem, realized it was a problem in her constituency area and she was like ‘no, we have to do something,’ and it came to this.”

Rodgers said the funding from Kingston City Council will help CT Survivors Connect expand on their current virtual support group and more comprehensively expand on their educational resources.

He said the distribution of modules to positions in spaces like law enforcement, healthcare, and all levels of governments is something that this chunk of funding will help to grow in a significant way.

Rodgers also said he hopes this will be able to assist in getting a counsellor on staff on an as-needed basis either at or after the monthly virtual meetings.

While the funding amount won’t allow CT Survivors Connect to accomplish everything Rodgers hopes to, he says for a first of its kind support network -and the first real government sponsorship regarding this problem- it will go a long way to putting it on the map for people who need it.

“This is funding that’s going to help the organization move forward,” Rodgers said.

“It’s twenty thousand dollars, it’s not a grand amount of money in the large scheme of things but for a brand new organization like we are, that really just needs to get our feet off the ground, this is an amazing starting point.”

Currently he says anywhere from 7 to 11 people regularly attend these meetings and he thinks this funding improving the group’s visibility could also result in an uptick in those numbers.

Rodgers also said the support group is partnering with Spectrum in the Kitchener/Waterloo to deliver the first in person conversion therapy support group, the first of its kind and a test before Rodgers’ hope of eventually holding in person groups in the Kingston or Belleville area.

While conversion therapy was officially banned in the country in January, Rodgers says some comments from different Canadian churches who have reasserted their stance against homosexuality coupled with what many deem to be turning back the clock on human rights in the United States leave no reason to believe there won’t be a continued fight against homophobia and conversion therapy.

He says while the ban in Canada is great, it still remains to be seen how willingly and effectively it will be enforced.

“In North America we’re supposed to be frontrunners on the way society works and human rights and things like that, how are we going backwards?” Rodgers said.

“To say that there’s not still a fight ahead of us is completely lying to ourselves… Until I see one of these churches go down in a courtroom, I absolutely think that we are still on the cusp of potentially having ourselves turn back.”

CT Survivors Connect will undergo a website redesign after receiving the funding, more info about the group can be found on Facebook.