Response to Scottish Expert Advisory Group’s Report on banning conversion therapy

4, October 2022

Simon Calvert, spokesperson for Let Us Pray said:

“LGBT people deserve to be protected from physical and verbal abuse just like anyone else. But these proposals go much, much further. The report demands a law that could criminalise traditional churches and 'gender-critical' feminists alike – simply because their conversations around sex and gender do not conform to a narrow brand of LGBT politics.

“To most people, the term conversion therapy means abusive practices. We all agree with protecting people from harm. But this report specifically advocates a new criminal offence that does not require any proof of harm or even any intention to cause harm. So the new offence will be a pure speech crime. It will be illegal to say the ‘wrong thing’ even if it is totally harmless.

“Leaders of traditional, mainstream churches are particularly in the firing line. The report suggests they be ‘re-educated’, and demands the removal of charitable status and the right to hire buildings from churches it deems non-compliant. It even calls for the defrocking of church ministers.

“Parents too are targeted, with proposals to withdraw parental rights.

“The group that wrote this report is not representative of Scottish society. For example, no mainstream religious groups were even allowed a seat at the table. We repeatedly sought to engage constructively with this process and were refused at every turn. The resulting report is a set of recommendations entirely divorced from reality. They don’t recognise the possibility that churches could respectfully uphold their beliefs in the way they deal with gay and trans people. They don’t recognise that making it illegal for ministers to encourage people to follow mainstream Christian teaching on sexual ethics would not only be repressive and wrong but a breach of international human rights laws.

“As we predicted, the Report wants Scotland to follow the example of the Australian State of Victoria. Victoria’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 makes it illegal to engage in ‘change or suppression practices’. The penalty can be up to ten years in prison and a maximum fine of over £100,000.

Official guidance from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission – which the report repeatedly praises – shows the State has opted for the most extreme version of a ban, outlawing the practice of excommunication in relation to sexual ethics, and listing as an 'illegal practice':

“a parent refusing to support their child’s request for medical treatment that will enable them to prevent physical changes from puberty that do not align with the child’s gender identity”

“The idea of criminalising parents for not supporting their child being put on puberty blockers is repugnant. The Australian Daily Mail says parents in Victoria have “formed a clandestine network to exchange ideas on how to approach the legal minefield laid down by the [Act]”. Parents should not need to behave like they are being watched by the Stasi in order to bring up their children.”


“The Group advises that ending conversion practices will not lead to the unlawful restriction of existing freedoms – including freedoms of speech, religion, and belief. The Group’s position is that where expression creates the potential of significant harm to others, a prohibition of a practice is justified and necessary as a proportionate way of protecting the interests of the victims, and does not unlawfully interfere with the human rights of the providers of conversion practices.” p.3

“The Group recommends that the existence of specific intent to cause harm, malice or ill-will is not required for an act to be considered a conversion practice and should therefore not be included as part of any criminal offence. Nor should there be any requirement that the provider sought to cause harm to the victim or potential victim.” p.4

“The Group recommends that where the perpetrator of any of the criminalised acts is a faith leader or a member of a religious institution, the legal consequences may include the withdrawal of the perpetrator’s professional licence as a faith leader or removal of their ability to work within Scotland in the said institution, or withdrawal of the institution’s charity status where the institution is not regulated.” p.5

“The Group does not consider that a ban on conversion practices leads to an unlawful restriction of freedom of religion or freedom of expression. Numerous religious groups have declared their support for the prohibition of conversion practices.” p.13

“The definition should be consistent across sexual orientation and gender identity and must be wide enough to encompass all acts and practices that seek to change, suppress, or inhibit someone’s sexual orientation, expression of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. We believe that it is important to explicitly include suppression within the definition as perpetrators of conversion practices may claim that they know that they cannot change someone’s sexual orientation, expression of sexual orientation or gender identity and/or gender expression, but they believe they may suppress them.” p.15-16

“We believe that it is important to explicitly include suppression within the definition”. p.16

“Our proposed definition requires that conversion practices be carried out with the intent of changing, suppressing and/or eliminating a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. The definition of conversion practices should not limit the practice to those who genuinely believe that the relevant change of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression is possible and desirable, nor should it require an intent to cause harm.” p.18

“… the criminalisation of conversion practices should not only include the carrying out of the practices themselves, but should also include offering, promoting, advertising or referring a person for the purpose of conversion practices. This will have the effect of capturing the range of conduct that accompanies the actual performance of conversion practices and of addressing the community and faith contexts that support and galvanise these practices.” p.21

“Where parents or guardians have engaged in conversion practices, the modification or even withdrawal of their parental or guardianship rights is envisaged as an option.” p.26

“Public authorities have a duty to ensure that no form of support, whether direct or indirect, is given to persons or organisations that carry out conversion practices. The Group recommends that authorities make sure that no public facilities, for example a public hall, are provided for any of the criminalised acts and that organisations which have been found to have been engaging in any of the criminalised acts do not receive preferential tax status, for example, linked to charitable status, or benefit from public subsidies. Where this is the case, Scotland is under a responsibility to cease the relevant support.” p.26

“Provide education on the harm caused by conversion practices and on the new legislation – for faith leaders, congregation, communities, youth leaders, teachers and healthcare professionals.” p.32

“Religious and cultural obligations play a huge part in why people may suppress being LGBT+. These norms are enforced and embedded from early childhood, often in subtle ways which impact significantly. The importance of marriage is one such obligation… These ideas become cemented in the psyche, meaning that many people ‘self-monitor’ and ‘self-police’ without an explicit force being present, for example by abstaining from any relationship if they are LGBT+, attempting to ‘be straight’, or entering into a forced marriage.” p.39-40

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