CONVERSION practices can cause long-term damage and the Scottish Government is seeking to ban attempts to suppress LGBT identities. 

While the Westminster Tories shelved plans for a ban on “conversion therapy” last year, despite previously including it in the King’s Speech, ministers in Holyrood have launched a consultation on outlawing the practice this week.

Will this latest piece of legislation be at the forefront of the “culture wars”, or as controversial as the gender reforms bill struck down by Alister Jack? And who are the groups already setting out their opposition to the plans?

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What are conversion practices?

The umbrella term “conversion therapy” is used to describe interventions that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

This would be a “treatment, practice or effort” that aims to change people from gay, lesbian, or bisexual to heterosexual, and trans or gender diverse to cisgender.

It can range from talking therapies and prayer, “pray the gay away”, to more extreme forms of physical violence, food deprivation, and exorcism.

Conversion practices can cause long-term harm to those who undergo them, such as severe mental health consequences, suicidal ideation, and a crisis of identity, an independent working group set up by the Scottish Government found.

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What does the consultation say?

The consultation, now open for responses, sets out a three-strand approach to stopping conversion practices - creating specific criminal offences, a new statutory aggravation or a civil protection order - in line with measures taken to tackle forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and domestic abuse.

Criminal offences would cover the “most serious and harmful” forms of conversion practices including the “provision of a service”, such as counselling, coaching or treatments, and a “coercive course of behaviour” that meets a certain threshold.

Those found guilty will face a fine or imprisonment, depending on whether they are prosecuted under solemn or summary procedure.

The statutory aggravator would tackle conversion practices that fall within existing offences such as assault, sexual assault, or threatening or abusive behaviour, and the offence would be considered more serious if it had the intent to change or suppress the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.

A third route would be creating a civil protection order relating to conversion practices similar to that in place for domestic abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. This non-criminal route essentially legally prevents someone from doing certain things that cause harm to individuals and protects those at risk.

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Police and local authorities could also use these in situations where conversion practices have already been carried out, and protection for the wider community is needed. While this is a civil approach, breaching a protection order is a criminal offence.

Would parents be jailed if they ‘refused to allow their children to change gender’?

Some right-wing news outlets, such as GB News, claimed that the legislation would allow parents to be sentenced to seven years in prison for refusing to allow their child to change gender.

While the consultation allows for imprisonment for a term “not exceeding seven years” under solemn procedure, an unlimited fine, or both, this is for the most serious criminal offences, relating to coercive behaviour.

The legislation includes the defence of reasonableness, and does not intend to legislate against, for example, parents talking to their children about sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is when this becomes harmful, forcing a child or person to suppress or attempt to change their identity through the various practices and forms of abuse, that the issue becomes criminal.

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Who are the groups arguing against it, and why?

The Catholic Church was quick out of the gate to say the legislation could have a “chilling effect” on religious freedom. The consultation includes a call to exclude the defence of consent, and many who have undergone religious conversion practices said they agreed to do so.

Therefore it is no surprise many religious organisations will be lobbying against it. The Free Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Alliance also spoke out at the launch of the consultation.

Gender critical group For Women Scotland (FWS) made the claim that parents would be criminalised for “refusing to sign up to the gender ideology cult”. FWS and others who were opposed to the policy of self-identification for transgender people in the Gender Recognition Reform Bill are also set to oppose this legislation.

Among some gender critical figures, there is a theory that allowing transgender children to have medical interventions, such as taking hormones, is done with the intent to “trans the gay away” and erase gay identities.

This has been referred to as “modern” conversion therapy in some quarters, who oppose any gender-affirming care being given to trans youngsters, and that a conversion therapy ban would “embed the lie” that they had been born in the wrong body.

The bill has majority backing

The bill is being led by Equalities Minister Emma Roddick and with the Scottish Greens backing it, it will likely pass when it comes to the final stage three vote due to the pro-independence majority of MSPs.

What remains to be seen is if Westminster, or Scottish Secretary Jack, might decide to use a Section 35 order to block the bill from becoming law.