CW: transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, suicide, self-harm, eating disorders
Note: the author is involved with the End Conversion Therapy Scotland campaign. To support their campaign, visit their website and email your MSP to ask if they will support legislation to ban conversion therapy.
On the 8th of March, there was a Westminster debate on banning conversion therapy at the UK level. MPs – many of whom were from Scotland – spoke about their personal experiences of coming out, of harassment and discrimination. They also contributed stories from constituents and friends about their conversion therapy experiences and how they still live with the trauma of what they experienced.
After nearly an hour of debate, speakers from all parties present condemned the practice of conversion therapy. They urged immediate, decisive action – without loopholes – inclusive of all LGBTQ+ people. However, when equalities minister Kemi Badenoch delivered the government’s position, she reiterated measures that the MPs had clearly said were inadequate: looking to jurisdictions such as Malta that have only banned professional associations from delivering it, potentially exempting ‘voluntary’ conversion therapy, and taking additional time for research and consultation rather than acting immediately when the evidence of harm is so clear and example legislation already exists.
As a result of backlash to this response and three government LGBT advisors’ resignations, there has been some progress, with Liz Truss saying that the government will be bringing forward a ban shortly. However, no details as to what this includes have yet been released. It is, therefore, clear that the UK government is not prioritising this issue. They will not stop the abuse that goes on in this country every day. They continue to send a message to LGBTQ+ people that we do not matter and that our lives are not worth protecting.
Fortunately, we do not have to wait for Westminster. We have all of the powers necessary for a ban on conversion therapy here in Scotland.
The End Conversion Therapy (ECT) Scotland campaign is working toward a legislative ban on:
- Causing a person to undergo conversion therapy
- Removing a minor from Scotland to undergo conversion therapy abroad
- Providing conversion therapy
- Advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy
Additionally, ECT Scotland is requesting means be put in place to support survivors and engage with communities.
This is modelled on legislation introduced but not yet passed in Canada – a world-leading model for an effective, complete ban on conversion therapy. These matters are all within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Scotland can be at the forefront of a growing global movement. There are active campaigns against conversion therapy in Canada, New Zealand, and several US states. The UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity has called for a global ban.
The UK government’s failure to act on conversion therapy lays bare the cautious approach of ‘wait for Westminster’ that is, presently, the effective position of the Scottish Government and the SNP. Scotland absolutely has the powers to produce a meaningful ban here, and we must act to do so.
To me, being part of a party that fights for both progressive values and an independent Scotland means doing everything in our power to live up to those values, and it means using every ounce of the devolved powers we have to act independently in pursuit of them. It means not waiting for Westminster when we can act now to protect the people of Scotland from abuse. It means using our devolved parliament to show everyone what an independent Scotland will stand for, and why it matters. It means actively fighting for the rights of all. It means not sacrificing one more LGBTQ+ person’s life and health to delays.
The passing of the hate crime bill on the 11th of March demonstrated that we have a progressive majority in the Scottish Parliament to achieve aims that protect marginalised people. The passing of legislation to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into our body of law shows that we are willing to take bold action to do what is right. There is, therefore, no reason to delay protecting the lives of LGBTQ+ Scots.
Conversion therapy causes immeasurable harm to LGBTQ+ people – it increases the risk of severe mental health problems, difficulty in future relationships, and suicide. Every day that goes by without a complete ban on this practice is another day on which a person is harmed. We can and must end this abuse without delay.