SNP MP John Nicolson explains why ‘abusive’ conversion therapy can never be a ‘choice’

SNP MP John Nicolson has passionately called for an end to conversion therapy claiming that vulnerable LGBTQ+ people are often “bullied” into undergoing the cruel practice by parents or religious figures. 

In a video for PinkNews, Nicolson, one of the UK’s most prominent gay politicians, said that banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people is the “kind and just” thing to do, speaking about a time he met an “abusive” pastor who performed conversion therapy on his own child.

“I once filmed for the BBC a documentary, and included a section on conversion therapy, and I filmed a session where a Protestant pastor, who was completely untrained and unqualified, was trying to convert a vulnerable young man,” said Nicolson.

“He explained his own son had been gay. He practised conversion therapy on his own son, and his own son died by suicide.

“I said to the pastor: ‘Why did you not, amidst the grief, feel some shame and resolve that you would live a different life and stop this abuse of young men?’

“Instead, he’d redoubled his efforts and targeted yet more vulnerable young men. He was an abuser and he needed to be stopped.”

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He said the idea that anyone can “freely choose” to go through conversion therapy is untrue, and that often those who undergo the practice are “the most vulnerable”.

“We have to ensure that conversion therapy… for either gay people or trans people, is made illegal.

“It’s the kind and just thing to do,” the SNP MP added.

John Nicolson clarified that his words were not an attack on any candidate in the current SNP leadership race.

It comes after SNP leadership frontrunner Kate Forbes suggested some LGBTQ+ people could “choose” to undergo conversion therapy

Forbes was asked during a debate 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 comments have attracted heavy criticism.

A photo shows LGBTQ+ activists holding a sign reading "ban conversion therapy for all."
Research shows that trans and non-binary people face even higher rates of conversion therapy. (Getty)

Nicolson’s plea for the government to ban conversion therapy is in line with Scotland’s policy to end conversion practises by the end of 2023, despite years of delays to the UK’s promises to make the cruel practice illegal across the country as a whole. 

The UK government announced in January 2023 that a ban on conversion therapy – one inclusive of trans people – will go ahead. However, details of a timeline on legislation have yet to be revealed. 

The Conservatives first promised a conversion therapy ban in 2018 during Theresa May’s tenure as prime minister, but Boris Johnson later opted to push ahead with a ban that only covered lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

An inclusive ban on conversion therapy has since been confirmed, but not before it has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny, adding more delay.

This is despite polls finding that a majority of Tory voters support a ban on conversion therapy, with 58 per cent of voters in 2022 supporting a ban on trans conversion therapy, and 63 per cent of voters agreeing that gay conversion therapy should be banned.

Jayne Ozanne, a former LGBTQ+ advisor to the government, told PinkNews at the time: “The swift response from the British public shows just how concerned so many people are of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our society today.”

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (, or Mind on 0300 123 3393 ( ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.