Scotland's ban on 'conversion practices' used on LGBT+ community must not include 'consent' loophole – Vic Valentine
Yesterday, leaks suggested that when the UK Government bans conversion practices in England and Wales, they will include an exception for those who ‘consent’. This is a gaping hole and makes a ban close to pointless. It’s vital the same does not happen in Scotland.
“Conversion practices” are a range of actions that try to stop lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, and other LGBT+ community members, from being, or expressing, who we are. These actions take place because the person doing them believes there is something wrong with LGBT+ people, and that we can be ‘fixed’.
Almost every LGBT+ person subjected to these harmful, ineffective efforts to change them is experiencing them at the hands of someone they know: a faith leader, family member or trusted member of their community. Often they have been pressured to believe there is something wrong with them and, as a result, they “consent” to conversion efforts.
We still live in a society in which many LGBT+ people do not see positive messages about our identities and lives. We may be fearful that to try to navigate the world as who we truly are will be too hard. Although some of us have families, friends and communities who love and support us, this is not everyone’s experience. It is often those who are not met with acceptance from those around them who are most vulnerable to conversion practices.
It may be that the first time they come out to someone, perhaps a family friend, they are met with quiet concern. This friend recommends they see a faith leader who can “help them see sense”. Anyone uncertain of their identity (and their place in community) is going to listen to people whom others around them appear to trust.
This may be where attempts to change them through conversion practices begin. How are they to know that what they will go on to experience is hours, weeks, years, of pointless and harmful attempts to convince them that who they are is wrong? If they keep going back because they have been told that their life would be better if they could change or suppress this part of themselves – is that consent? Of course it isn’t.
If the UK Government introduces a ‘ban’ with this loophole, action against those who continue these harmful practices will be near impossible. “They kept coming back”, “they signed this consent form”, “they said they wanted this”. No one can consent to something that doesn’t work and causes them immense and lifelong harm, nor to something that is only happening because some people still believe that to be LGBT+ is to be less than others.
When the Scottish Government brings forward a Bill to end these harmful practices, it mustn’t include any such exception. In 2021, the Scottish Parliament Equalities Committee investigated conversion practices. Their report is clear that there should be a ban, and that “consent to such practices can never be informed and should not be available as a defence to those undertaking conversion practices”. To ensure all LGBT+ people are protected from harm, the Scottish Government must fully implement the committee’s recommendations. A Bill to end conversion practices that allows for ‘consent’ is a ban in name only and nothing else.
Vic Valentine is manager of Scottish Trans
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