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Scottish Government opens consultation on ending ‘conversion therapy’ practices

"We are leading the way in the UK," said Scotland's Equalities Minister Emma Roddick on Tuesday (9 January)

By Alastair James

A protest to ban 'Conversion therapy' in London
A protest to ban 'Conversion therapy' in London (Image: Alastair James)

The Scottish Government has opened a 12-week consultation into ending harmful ‘conversion therapy’ practices.

Launched on Tuesday (9 January) the consultation will run until midnight on Tuesday 2 April. ‘Conversion therapy’ is an outdated and debunked practice aimed at changing or suppressing someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

Scotland’s consultation details that the proposed law will look at coercive and repeated behaviour aimed at changing or suppressing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also seeks to differentiate controlling and intentional behaviour from people providing guidance and advice “that does not direct that person towards any particular, pre-determined sexual orientation or gender identity.” This includes discussions with healthcare practitioners, family, or religious leaders.

Similarly, “medical or psychological care that is conducted ethically by a healthcare professional,” will not be classed as ‘conversion therapy’. The same will go for parents questioning a child’s decision.

“We are leading the way in the UK” – Scotland’s Equalities Minister Emma Roddick on banning ‘conversion therapy’

Scotland’s Equalities Minister Emma Roddick described ‘conversion therapy’ as “damaging and destructive acts.” Lamenting their continued use Roddick went on to say: “We are leading the way in the UK and joining the growing list of countries acting to address this harm.”

The UK government has a long and disappointing history when it comes to ‘conversion therapy’. A ban was first promised in 2018 by then-Prime Minister Theresa May. Since then it’s been subject to several delays and a consultation. A particularly low moment saw plans dropped altogether before being picked up again hours later. Plans for a ban were left out of the 2023 King’s Speech. Bills have since been put forward in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Continuing on Tuesday, Roddick said: “The consultation responses we receive will help us to further consider those measures we can take to stop the harm of conversion practices and protect those at risk while ensuring that freedoms – including freedoms of speech, religion, and belief – are safeguarded.”

Mark Kelvin, the Chief Executive at LGBT Health and Wellbeing, welcomed the Scottish Government’s “leadership and action on this issue.”

“Fully comprehensive”

The Scottish Government’s proposed legislation builds on a January 2022 report from the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee. The report called for “fully comprehensive” ban that should “cover sexual orientation and gender identity, including trans identities, for both adults and children in all settings without exception and include ‘consensual’ conversion practices.” It also urged the Scottish Government to go ahead without waiting for the UK government to bring forward its own ‘conversion therapy’ legislation.

Following the Committee’s report, the Scottish Government set up an Expert Advisory Group in March 2022. It was set up with the aim of advising the government on its legislation. It included LGBT organisations, faith groups, mental health, and legal professionals. Human rights advocates, academics, and people with experience of conversion practices were also included. Publishing a report in October 2022, the group set out guidance that has been used in the government’s consultation.