Scottish government publish plans to ban conversion therapy

The Scottish government has published plans to ban the barbaric practice of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.

While UK-based activists sit tight in wait of an update on Rishi Sunak’s conservative party to follow through on their promise to ban the abhorrent practice, Scotland is pushing ahead with proposed legislation that would “prevent and respond to harmful acts” that attempt to alter or suppress someone’s sexual or gender identity.

LGBTQ+ people in the UK are still waiting on a conversion therapy ban. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The proposal, published on Tuesday (9 January) by government ministers recommends that the conversion therapy ban might cover such areas as therapy or counseling for a person to change or suppress their same-sex attraction, repeatedly or continuously controlling a person’s activities and appearance, repeatedly or continuously threatening or humiliating someone, and prescribing medication to suppress a person’s sex drive, STV News reports.

Medical treatments like gender-affirming care for transgender individuals would not be considered a conversion practice under the recommended legislation.

As a result of the proposed ban, new criminal offences would be introduced that could see perpetrators charged for engaging in conversion practice, providing a conversion service, or engaging in a course of coercive behaviour.

In order to prosecute an individual or an organisation for one of these offences, it would have to be proven that anyone engaging in a conversion practice had done so with the intention to change a person’s sexual or gender identity and that it was causing “physical or psychological harm.”

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Although these plans will be welcomed enthusiastically by the LGBTQ+ community and anti-conversion activists, there has already been some vocal backlash from sectors of the religious community, who fear that the “worrying lack” of clarity about what “conversion practices” mean could create a “chilling effect” on advice or counselling offered in “good faith”.

People hold up signs reading 'Ban LGBT+ conversion therapy NOW!' and 'conversion therapy is LGBT+ abuse' as they call on the Tory government to take action
Proposed legislation from the Scottish government would finally ban LGBTQ+ conversion therapy. (Getty)

However, the Scottish government’s proposed legislation assures that a ban on conversion practices would protect the existing freedoms of speech, religion, and belief.

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Additionally, any law that is introduced under the government’s proposal would not include the provision of “non-directive and ethical guidance and support of a person who might be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, or experiencing conflict or distress, whether that is provided by a healthcare practitioner, a family member, or a religious leader.”

Still, despite this safeguarding of the freedom of speech, religious belief, and ethical guidance, religious figures remain concerned.

In a statement to the news outlet, the Catholic Church of Scotland said that, while they support legislation that “protects people from physical and verbal abuse”, they implored the Scottish Government “not to criminalise mainstream pastoral care, parental guidance, and medical or other professional intervention related to sexual orientation.”

Even more concerned was the Christian Institute, a UK charity, who warned in their own statement that they were “prepared to go to court” over the Scottish Government’s proposed ban.

“We are particularly worried about the Government’s plans for ‘civil protection orders’,” said the charity’s deputy director Simon Calvert.

A conversion therapy ban in the UK was first promised by Theresa May half a decade ago. (Unsplash)

“The courts could impose draconian limits on the free speech of individuals based purely on activists’ speculation about what they might say to gay or trans people.”

He added: “If Parliament passes a law that tramples on basic freedom of speech and religion, we are ready to go to court.”

Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ advocates are optimistic about the proposed legislation and look forward to the day that the dangerous practice is officially outlawed.

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“Conversion practices are widely discredited and extremely harmful and have no place in any inclusive society,” said Chief Executive at LGBT Health and Wellbeing, Mark Kelvin.

“Whilst we’d like to think that they’re a thing of the past, or not happening in Scotland, we know that some LGBTQ+ people in Scotland are still being subjected to these abhorrent practices and we welcome the Scottish Government’s leadership and action on this issue.

“Our freephone helpline is staffed by a trained team who specialise in LGBTQ+ mental health and wellbeing. Callers can expect compassionate and non-judgmental support, resources to help navigate their experiences, and referrals to other support if needed.”

Currently, government ministers are seeking public opinion on their proposed legislation through an online consultation, which closes on 2 April.

LGBT Health and Wellbeing’s helpline can be reached at 0800 464 7000 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 12pm to 9pm, and Sundays from 1pm to 6pm.

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