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What are Conversion Practices?

Conversion practices (or so called “conversion therapies”) are acts which deliberately try to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

They are based on the belief that it is better to heterosexual and/or cisgender, and that other sexual orientations and gender identities are somehow flawed, wrong or “broken”.

They come in a wide range of forms, from pseudo-psychological treatments, to acts that take place in the home, and practices that are religious or spiritual in nature. Sometimes they are carried out by an individual, but they can also involve wider communities or friends and family members too.

At their most extreme, conversion practices can involve physical and sexual violence.

Conversion practices do not work, and have no medical or scientific justification or validity, as asserted by the Independent Forensic Expert Group. 

In 2021, the then-UN Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity called for a global ban on conversion practices, stating that they 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.” 

While there is no evidence that conversion practices work, they do, however, have lifelong impacts on the mental and physical wellbeing of those who are subjected to them. This often leads to poor mental health, low self-esteem, difficulty forming relationships, and suicidal ideation.  

You can read about the experiences of some people who have survived conversion practices here, but please be aware that many contain upsetting content, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse: 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 

We know that conversion practices happen in Scotland and across the UK.

In 2018, the UK Government’s National LGBT survey found that 7% of LGBT respondents in Scotland had either undergone or been offered so called “conversion therapy”, rising to 10% for trans people. However, we know that conversion practices are vastly under-researched and under-reported, and so the actual figures may be much higher. 

While many acts that would be considered conversion practices are already criminalised, not all aspects are.

This is why a comprehensive ban is needed to cover the loopholes that allow conversion practices to continue to be carried out in this country. It is also necessary to educate practitioners and the general public on why these acts are never acceptable, and to provide support for survivors. 

In 2022, we participated in the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Conversion Practices, which gave recommendations on what would need to be included in legislation to effectively ban conversion practices in Scotland.

You can read the Group’s full report and recommendations here, as well as the paper we helped to produce on LGBT+ people of colour and ethnic minority faith community experiences of conversion practices. 

Scottish Government Consultation

In January 2024, the Scottish Government began a consultation on its proposed legislation to end conversion practices, setting out their ideas about how the legislation would work and asking individuals and organisations for their opinion on the proposals.

The consultation is open until April 2nd, and if you like to learn more about you can respond, see our conversion practices homepage here.

You can also read the Scottish Government’s paper outlining its proposals and the rationale behind them here.

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