Kate Forbes saying conversion therapy can be a ‘choice’ could jeopardise SNP power-sharing deal
SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes is facing criticism after she suggested that undergoing conversion therapy can be a “choice”.
Conversion therapy is often described as a form of torture – Stonewall has said it “cannot be consented to” because it is abusive in nature.
Forbes was asked about banning the practice during Sky News’ SNP leadership debate on Monday evening (13 March).
The finance secretary said she would “look carefully” at a ban. When asked if a gay man should be allowed to seek conversion therapy to change his sexual orientation, she replied: “Well, it’s his choice, but I do not think we should allow conversion therapy.”
Her remarks prompted yet more criticism from the LGBTQ+ community and its allies – Forbes has already been widely condemned for her stances on same-sex marriage and trans rights reform.
Her words have also incited backlash from the Scottish Greens, which props up the SNP government in a power-sharing deal (the Bute House agreement).
Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the party, said conversion practices are “abhorrent and abusive by nature” and that anything less than a total ban would go against the deal.
“There is no such thing as a non-coercive conversion practice and never can be,” Harvie said.
“Anyone who argues that people should be able to consent to this form of abuse is clearly failing to understand the issue. Nobody should be told that they are not good enough or that they should be ashamed of who they are.”
He added: “The Bute House agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish government committed to a watertight ban on all conversion practices. That is what we believe in and is the commitment we would seek from any new first minister.
“Anything less than a full and unequivocal ban would go against that agreement, which was overwhelmingly supported by the membership of both parties.
“Equality is, and always will be, central to our party and our vision for Scotland.”
Kate Forbes sparks ‘grave concerns’ over conversion therapy
SNP member Erin Lux said she was “incredibly disappointed” by Kate Forbes’ comments on conversion therapy. Lux is co-convenor of the SNP’s LGBTQ+ group Out for Independence, but spoke to PinkNews in a personal capacity and as co-founder of the End Conversion Therapy Scotland campaign.
She drew attention to a UN report which describes conversion therapy as “torture”.
“A person cannot consent to torture, and it is deeply worrying that Forbes knows so little about the reality of conversion practices that she does not recognise this,” Lux said.
“As a result of her comments, I have little faith in her commitment to passing a bill that will actually protect our community from this abuse.”
Lux pointed out that an expert advisory group on ending conversion practices set up by the Scottish government found that “allowing for consent to conversion practice is a dangerous approach which will leave many people vulnerable to abuse”.
End Conversion Therapy Scotland also expressed its “grave concerns” about Forbes’ stance on the practice.
“There is a clear consensus among campaigners and experts that any ban on conversion therapy must not include a loophole for consent, on the basis that true consent cannot freely be given to such an inherently coercive practice,” the group wrote in a letter addressed to Forbes.
“As things stand, we have no faith that you will take the action needed to properly tackle this evil practice should you become first minister.
“We hope that you will meet us urgently in order to explain the realities of conversion therapy and to give you an opportunity to hear from survivors in the importance of a comprehensive conversion therapy ban.”
Forbes’ comments are just the latest in a blistering leadership race which has seen her repeatedly coming under fire from LGBTQ+ people for her social conservatism.
She was immediately tipped as a potential successor when Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation, but within days, her campaign was in crisis when she admitted she would have voted against same-sex marriage if she had been an MSP when the measure was passed.
Forbes has also opposed gender recognition reform in Scotland and has expressed anti-abortion views in the past.
Despite the controversies, Forbes continues to command significant support among SNP members. Recent polling shows many believe she would outperform her opponents Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan in key areas such as the NHS, the economy and education.
PinkNews contacted Kate Forbes for comment.
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