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Ending Conversion Practices

The Equality Network is currently working to end conversion practices in Scotland.

Conversion practices means any attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These come in a wide range of forms, from pseudo-psychological treatments and aversion therapies to practices that are religiously based, such as ‘purification’ or fasting. At their most extreme, conversion practices can involve physical and sexual violence too.

Conversion practices have no medical or scientific justification or validity. The Independent Forensic Expert Group found that there was no sound scientific evidence that LGBT+ identities can be changed. The UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has called for a global ban on so called ‘conversion therapy’ stating that conversion practices are:

  • “By their very nature degrading, inhuman and cruel and create a significant risk of torture”
  • Based on the “incorrect and harmful notion that sexual and gender diversity are disorders to be corrected”,
  • and “inflict severe pain and suffering and result in psychological and physical damage.”

There is a growing international movement towards banning these abusive practices. Countries including Canada, Malta, France, India, Chile, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany and parts of Australia, the USA and Spain, have legislated to ban conversion practices (though some bans are more comprehensive than others).

Scotland does not currently have legislation banning conversion practices. This is despite the UK Government’s National LGBT Survey (2018) finding that 7% of LGBT+ people in Scotland had either undergone or been offered ‘conversion therapy’, rising to 10% of trans people.

Recognising the significant harm caused by conversion practices, and their prevalence in Scotland, in 2020, End Conversion Therapy lodged a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for an end to these. As a result, the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry, calling for written evidence between 6 July and 13 August 2021. The Equality Network provided written evidence to this inquiry, which can be found here.

In September 2021, the Committee began taking spoken evidence on conversion practices. The Equality Network and Scottish Trans, along with other LGBTI+ and human rights organisations, academics, faith leaders, health professionals, and survivors of conversion practices, gave evidence in support of a comprehensive ban. Based on the evidence received, the Committee agreed that “conversion practices are abhorrent and are not acceptable in Scotland”. The Committee also agreed to introduce legislation to end conversion practices. The report and recommendations can be found here.

In March 2022, the Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices (the EAG) was set up by the Scottish Government, to inform legislation and recommendations around conversion practices. The Equality Network was a member of the EAG, which met eight times between March and August 2022. The minutes can be found here.

The Equality Network also conducted our own research to inform the EAG, calling out to LGBTI+ survivors of conversion practices through a Scotland-wide survey. We heard from people with a range of lived experiences of conversion practices. This was fed in to the EAG, and several of the people surveyed agreed to be part of the group, ensuring that survivor voices were centred and properly heard.

Part of our research identified that LGBT+ people of colour and diverse faiths are not properly considered in studies or attempts to legislate around conversion practices, despite evidence that minority ethnic groups are at greater risk of undergoing these. We facilitated a sub-group of the EAG specifically exploring the experiences of LGBT+ People of Colour and Minority Ethnic Faith communities. This included input from House of Rainbow, Sarbat Sikhs, Shakti Women’s Aid, and The Naz and Matt Foundation.

The full report and recommendations from the EAG were published in October 2022, and can be viewed here. The key principles of this report focused on the need for effective civil and criminal aspects, education and awareness and support for survivors, and those at risk, of conversion practices. At the same time, the Scottish Government published their initial response to the recommendations – here.

We currently await a public consultation by the Scottish Government on their policy position on conversion practices and aspects of the promised bill to deal with conversion practices. The current programme for government promised that the bill would be introduced in the Scottish Parliament by the end of 2023 – for that to be possible, the public consultation will need to be issued before the summer.

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