Conversion therapy: Scotland will explore how Cass Review could affect ban, John Swinney says

The SNP’s former partners in government, the Scottish Greens, have pushed for a timetable on a “full and watertight ban” on conversion practices to be published

The Scottish Government will explore how the findings of the Cass Review on gender services for young people sits with its plans to ban conversion therapy, John Swinney has said – as calls grow to ban the “cruel and abusive” practices.

However, the SNP’s former partners in government, the Scottish Greens, have pushed for a timetable on a “full and watertight ban” on conversion practices to be published, in a letter to social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

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Conversion therapies are pseudoscientific mental health interventions which intend to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The practice, which is most frequently used against homosexual men in Christian communities, can leave long-term psychological damage and is widely regarded as ineffective by mainstream doctors.

The Sandyford clinic in Glasgow is Scotland's only facility for trans young people. Picture: John DevlinThe Sandyford clinic in Glasgow is Scotland's only facility for trans young people. Picture: John Devlin
The Sandyford clinic in Glasgow is Scotland's only facility for trans young people. Picture: John Devlin

Proposals to ban the practice are yet to be introduced at Holyrood, but a consultation on the issue closed in April.

The Cass Review, a review of gender services for young people in England, was published last month, leading to a pause in puberty blockers for new patients south of the border and in Scotland.

The head of the review, Dr Hilary Cass, told Holyrood’s health and sport committee that some mental health practitioners were “anxious” that offering support to someone questioning their gender identity could be caught under the new law.

“The anxiety that they might become the test case for that is making clinicians even more anxious about working in this area, and we do not want to do anything to frighten off professionals from working in it,” she told Holyrood’s health and sport committee last week. “Walking that path is very difficult.”

Dr Hilary CassDr Hilary Cass
Dr Hilary Cass

Dr Cass added: “I do not know how we get that balance right of protecting people from conversion therapy and not frightening therapists who are just doing their job by having an appropriate exploratory conversation with a young person.”

The consultation document was published earlier this year. However, the document suggested the Scottish Government’s plans would protect “non-directive and ethical guidance and support to 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”.

The Scottish Greens, who were recently partners to the SNP in government before the recent end of the Bute House Agreement, have been vocal about ending the "abusive and cruel” practice of conversion therapy.

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“They [conversion therapies] have no place in a modern, progressive or forward-looking Scotland,” Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said.

“Everybody deserves to live their life free from marginalisation and discrimination. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed of who they are or who they love, or told that they need to change their sexuality or gender identity.

“The speculation we have seen over recent days is not helping anyone, which is why I have called for clarity from the Scottish Government and for them to publish a timeline for the legislation. We can’t undo the damage that has been done, but we can ensure that nobody else has to face such awful practices.

“I hope that the Scottish Government remains in opposition, and that survivors of these awful practices see the watertight ban that they have been promised and they deserve.”

In the letter to Ms Somerville, Ms Chapman said the end of the Bute House Agreement had “raised doubts and fears about whether this will be delivered in this parliamentary session”.

Mr Swinney had earlier repeated his support for a ban, but agreed the questions raised by Dr Cass were valid.

“I think that’s one of the questions that has to be explored, and I think Dr Cass made a very fair point in that respect,” Mr Swinney told the BBC.

“I think in all aspects of the work that we undertake in relation to these questions and other questions where clinicians are involved, we want clinicians to be able to give the best support to patients, so we have to listen to clinical opinion very carefully.”

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The Government, he said, was “reflecting” on the consultation responses as well as the recommendations of the Cass Review, with a response on the latter expected before Holyrood’s summer recess.

Asked if he believed a transgender woman was a woman, the First Minister said: “I believe a woman is an adult female born as a woman and I also accept that transgender women are defined as women.”

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said of a conversion therapy ban: “That has been a manifesto commitment of ours – it continues to be. But I think there are lessons that have to be learned.

"One of the things I would challenge the SNP leadership on is they can no longer take the goodwill of the public and the goodwill of the [Scottish] Parliament and then turn that into incompetent policy, which actually undermines the cause of social justice.

We will look at any piece of legislation that comes before the Parliament. We will scrutinise it based on its merits, but we need competence. On the GRR Bill since its passing, the trans community feel they no longer benefited and women no longer feel reassured.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said SNP ministers “must ensure they fully take into account the recommendations from Dr Cass” as any potential ban is progressed.

“It is crucial that the work of clinicians is not intruded upon and that the latest medical advice is followed, so that the right support is provided to the most vulnerable people in our society,” she said.



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