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International Human Rights Support

Several countries and states around the world (including 10 in Europe) have already banned conversion practices, and many human rights bodies and advocates have called for an end to these harmful practices.

See below for examples of how legislation has been put into practice and the support it’s received from international human rights experts.

Council of Europe Issue Paper on Human Rights and Gender Identity

In March 2024, the Council of Europe (of which the UK is a member state) released a paper setting out 15 recommendations for how countries can ensure the human rights of trans people, including the “Ban and sanction the advertising and conduct of conversion practices targeting both children and adults and ensure that the ban covers gender identity and gender expression.”

This builds on a piece from 2023, where the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights set out the various harms and human rights violations of conversion practices, and called for an inclusive ban accompanied by awareness raising, education, and support for victims. The Commissioner calls conversion practices degrading, and says that they “humiliate the persons subjected to them, diminish their human dignity, and can result in significant physical and mental suffering.”

The 2024 paper also notes concern around the UK’s hesitancy to introduce a trans-inclusive ban, and that legislation that only covers sexual orientation “overlooks the existence of trans people and the serious harms and human rights violations caused by conversion practices, which apply equally to those who undergo these practices on grounds of gender identity or expression”.

Across both publications, the Commissioner is clear that there should be no defence of consent, that suppression is a form of conversion practice, and that secular practices must also be banned.

Country Spotlight: Victoria, Australia

In 2021, the state of Victoria in Australia introduced the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021, banning conversion practices that seek to change or hide someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity as well as introducing civil measures operated by Victoria’s Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.

The Act covers both secular and faith-based practices, as well as those that happen in medical or therapeutic settings, while also protecting freedom of religion and belief.

The “civil” aspects of the Act allow the Victoria Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of conversion practices, support victims, and enforce outcomes where there are evidence of conversion practices, but also to provide education and facilitation to help ensure the practices stop and that practitioners understand the damage they are doing.

Victoria’s legislation is considered by many to be world-leading, and was heavily emulated in the Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices’ recommendations to the Scottish Government.

Many elements of this legislation are present in the Scottish Government’s proposals, including making it an offence to take someone out of the country for the purposes of undergoing conversion practices, and including attempts to suppress and individuals identity alongside attempts to change it.

United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In 2021, four United Nations independent experts and special rapporteurs (including the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity) co-wrote a letter in response to a call from the Polish Episcopal Conference to create clinics that would carry out conversion practices on LGBT+ people in Poland.

The experts expressed deep concern about this, and emphasised the deep harm inherent in conversion practices as “means and mechanisms that treat LGBT persons as lesser human beings” and are “degrading by their very definition.”

Further, they note the power imbalances that enable conversion practices, and how these are similar to other human rights abuses: “The asymmetrical power relationship between an enlightened converter and a benighted convert further evokes the dehumanization, moral exclusion and delegitimating rationale, which not only is an enabling mechanism of torture, but lies at the base of most gross human rights violations in recorded history.”

The letter also covers the various human rights standards that conversion practices violate, including the rights to non-discrimination, health, and the rights of the child, as well as the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

One of the co-authors of the letter, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, also specifically rejects “any claim that religious beliefs can be invoked to justify violence or discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity” and called on faith leaders to publicly oppose hostility towards LGBT people and foster discussion on the harm caused by conversion practices “justified” by religion or belief.

Conversion Practices Bans Around the World

14 countries from across the world have national bans on conversion practices: Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain.

Many more countries are currently proposing bans, have bans in specific states within the country (such as Mexico and the United States), or have banned specific practices among medical professionals.

While not all of these laws are full or complete (some exclude conversion on the basis of gender identity or include defences around consent), there is a clear movement across the world to ban these harmful practices, with the majority of the countries listed above having passed their legislation since 2020.

European Psychiatric Association Statement on Conversion “Therapies” and LGBTQ Patients

The European Psychiatric Association (EPA) published a position statement affirming that “different sexual orientations and gender identities (e.g. homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender or non-binary identities) are not mental disorders and can present a variety of ways as part of the human condition”, and cites the World Health Organisation’s 2013 statement that “In none of its individual manifestations does homosexuality constitute a disorder or an illness, and therefore it requires no cure.”

The statement gives three key reasons why the EPA encourages bans on conversion practices, those being that:

  1. Diverse sexual orientations and gender identities do not represent a mental disorder
  2. The stigmatisation on those with different sexual orientations and gender identities is a danger to society
  3. There is significant risk of harm by conversion „therapies“ i.e. for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicidal ideations and attempts, or internalised homophobia

The EPA also note that conversion practices violate the human rights of their victims and are unethical and unjustifiable for psychiatric professionals to participate in, and instead “encourages psychotherapies which affirm individuals’ sexual orientations and gender identities and respect the identities for those with diverse gender expressions.”

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