Scotland's planned conversion therapy ban contains safeguards to ensure parents' and religious leaders' rights are protected – Emma Roddick, SNP minister for equalities

The Scottish Government’s proposed ban on conversion practices will not prevent parents and faith leaders from guiding children and others who are questioning their identity

‘Conversion practices’ is a new term for many, but they are likely to hear it a fair bit over the next few months as the Scottish Government consults on banning acts which intend to change or suppress someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation – something which we know is impossible – and cause harm to that person in the process.

Through engagement with various people who have experienced conversion practices, we know that, unfortunately, they are still taking place in modern Scotland. Existing law covers some of them – for example, the horrific “corrective rape” is already illegal as “rape”. However, some of the stories heard by the Equalities Committee during its consideration of a petition to ban these practices highlighted that there are gaps we need to fill.

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Harmful courses of behaviour were not captured under the law, as existing legislation preventing coercion within domestic abuse only applies where the perpetrator is a partner or ex-partner. “Threatening or abusive behaviour” does not capture the full spectrum of acts carried out to change or suppress sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s where our proposals come in.

Coercion a key test for planned criminal offence

We have been extremely mindful of the need to tackle conversion practices in a way that does not prevent parents and faith leaders from guiding people, including children, who are questioning their identity. Safeguards have been worked in from the beginning to protect already recognised legal rights.

In order to be captured by our proposed criminal offence, a number of tests must be met. Firstly, a service must have been provided or a course of behaviour must have taken place which amounts to coercion. Coercive behaviour includes acts that are threatening, abusive, humiliating, punishing, or controlling of day-to-day actions, and they must have been carried out consistently or repeatedly. Crucially, the offence will only apply when harm is proven to have been caused.

Secondly, there must be intent to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, meaning solely trying to protect a child’s safety and well-being or parent them – for example, by saying they can’t go to an event because it’s too late at night – would not be covered, nor would questioning, being critical, or seeking support for a child without intent to change or suppress.

Finally, it must have been directed at an individual – so, a general statement of belief or religious teaching to a group of people would not be relevant. There is also a defence if the behaviour was reasonable in the circumstances.

Knowing that the debate around this issue will be difficult for people who are suffering – or at risk of – conversion practices, the Scottish Government has funded LGBT Health and Wellbeing to provide a conversion practices helpline. I encourage anyone who needs to talk about this to phone, email, or chat to them online for support and information. I encourage everyone, including parents and faith leaders, to have open conversations with those they support – people who have somewhere loving and safe to talk are far less likely to need a helpline.

Emma Roddick is an SNP MSP for Highland and Islands and minister for equalities, migration and refugees



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