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Chamber and committees

Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 7, 2021



Conversion Therapy (PE1817)

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is an evidence session with Tristan Gray and Blair Anderson. We are pleased to welcome Tristan, who is the principal petitioner, and Blair, on behalf of End Conversion Therapy Scotland. I refer members to papers 1, 2 and 3, and invite Blair to make a short opening statement.

Blair Anderson (End Conversion Therapy Scotland)

Thank you for having us. I am Blair Anderson—my pronouns are he/him; Tristan Gray’s are also he/him.

Since the petition was submitted last year, I have joined the End Conversion Therapy Scotland group. There are four of us, but Sophie Duncan and Erin Lux could not be here today. End Conversion Therapy Scotland has co-hosted events with other conversion therapy organisations across the United Kingdom and Ireland and has met members of the Scottish Parliament to discuss our campaign asks. We ran a very successful pledge campaign during the Holyrood election. I am sure that some of you signed our pledge—thank you very much for that—which was signed by 214 candidates, 55 of whom were returned as MSPs. All five Holyrood parties committed to a ban on conversion therapy in their manifestos. Since then, we have been meeting regularly with LGBTQ+ sector organisations.

We are happy to answer any questions from the committee.

The Convener

Thanks very much for coming. I will kick off the questions. What is the definition of conversion therapy that we should recognise? A lot of submissions to our consultation say that we need to be really clear about what we mean by conversion therapy.

Tristan Gray (End Conversion Therapy Scotland)

Conversion therapy can be best understood not as an attempt to change the box that someone believes that they can fit in but to change their behaviour to better fit the box that society or their community has placed them in. You cannot actually change someone’s gender identity or sexuality through the various forms of pressure and psychological abuse that are used as part of conversion therapy; you can only force them into expressing themselves differently from how they feel, or to live in denial to prevent the abuse from continuing.

Conversion therapy has the directed intent to change someone. It is not simply expressing an opinion or faith, or distaste at someone’s identity or behaviour; it is a concerted effort to change that to what is considered to be the correct way to be. The targets of conversion therapy are often made to feel as if the behaviour that they are most comfortable with—the expression of how they feel—shows that they are broken or wrong. They are pressured or threatened by psychological abuse or torture if they express themselves and rewarded with acceptance and freedom from that abuse if they fix their behaviour to fit the box that they have been placed in.

Conversion therapy is, therefore, a broad term for psychological conditioning that seeks to force people to change or suppress their sexual orientation, to repress or reduce their sexual attraction or behaviours, or to change their gender identity to match the sex that they were assigned at birth.

Blair, do you want to add anything?

Blair Anderson

We additionally stress the importance of a fully comprehensive ban in legislation. We know that there are various issues to consider, but it is our group’s belief that any ban has to be fully comprehensive to be worth the paper that it is written on. That includes covering sexuality and gender, and it includes forced conversion therapy, so-called consensual conversion therapy and any attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity in whichever form it takes and whichever setting it takes place in. We stress the need for that to be done without loopholes or exemptions. In particular, it should cover non-affirmative forms of therapy for trans people. Trans people are perhaps those in the LGBTQ+ community who are most at risk from conversion therapy, and any ban must be sure to protect trans young people in particular.

What do you mean by “non-affirmative”?

Blair Anderson

Perhaps the best international practice is the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021, which was passed by the Victorian Parliament in Australia this year. That does not prohibit every form of conduct, and excludes therapy and counselling that are supportive or affirmative of someone’s sexuality or gender identity. We would ask that any therapy or counselling that has the intended outcome of changing someone’s gender identity to match the sex assigned at birth be covered in any legislation.

Thank you for the definition of conversion therapy. What kind of impact would your proposal have on the support that is provided by religious leaders?

Tristan Gray

We do not believe that freedom of religion will be impacted by any legislation that is brought forward. We understand that there have been submissions to the consultation that express concern that a ban on conversion therapy would have an impact on people’s right to practise their faith and the right for religious leaders to promote their faith. However, the majority of religious leaders and denominations support a ban on conversion therapy.

The Ozanne Foundation’s open letter featured more than 400 religious leaders who committed to a ban against conversion therapy, including Desmond Tutu and Mary McAleese. There is nothing in a conversion therapy ban that should pose any restriction on the right of people to practise freedom of thought to hold someone in their thoughts and prayers as they see fit.

That is distinct from the practice that some people have outlined as part of the conversion therapy that they have experienced, in which they are expected to take part in prayer to correct their sexuality or gender identity, or where such a practice is used to place pressure on someone by their community. We think that that crosses the line from freedom of religion into an abusive situation in which the target of the pressure is made to feel sinful or broken for simply living and loving as other people do. That is the line that I think should be made clear in any legislation. The freedom to pray for others and have faith should not be impacted by the legislation. However, the practice of pressuring someone using faith should be covered.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I have a couple of questions to explore the role of the medical profession in this context. Blair Anderson outlined the definition of conversion therapy. What sort of links with medicalisation are we talking about, and what is the relationship between support for people and the potential criminalisation of medical professionals? What are your thoughts on that, and what do you want to happen in that space?

Blair Anderson

It is worth saying at the outset that, as far as we understand it, the majority of cases of conversion therapy do not happen in a medical setting. They often take place in religious settings or behind closed doors, in family homes and so on.

In the healthcare setting, a number of sector-wide bodies such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists—almost all healthcare bodies in the United Kingdom, in fact—have co-signed a memorandum of understanding that expressly denounces conversion therapy and states that it is not acceptable under the operating procedures.

On the medicalisation aspect, there are a limited number of instances in which healthcare comes into play. For example, the Ozanne Foundation’s 2018 faith and sexuality survey listed some forms of conversion therapy and treatment, which, alongside things such as prayer, included hormone treatment, electro-convulsive treatment, counselling and psychiatry. At present, we do not know the prevalence of those practices in regulated professions, but we know that they have been expressly condemned by the regulatory bodies.

Maggie Chapman

I want to come back on two points. In the counselling and therapeutic space, in psychiatry and psychotherapy, there are already guidelines around not doing conversion therapy. What routes would a ban open up to a survivor of such behaviour that they do not already have available to them?

My other question is on the criminalisation of the non-medical and non-religious forms of conversion therapy that may take place behind closed doors in a family home. How would you see that playing out?

Blair Anderson

I am not a medical professional, but I would say that the purpose of psychiatry or counselling is to provide a space for someone to explore their feelings and experiences. It is not undertaken with a set outcome in mind. If a psychiatrist or counsellor goes into a relationship with a patient with the intention of changing, suppressing or otherwise affecting that patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity, we would like that to be covered by any potential ban.

Provided that a psychiatrist or counsellor is providing a space for people to explore their experiences, such as difficulties that they are having with their sexuality or gender identity, and providing a supportive and affirmative environment without preconditions or an intended outcome in mind, that would not be affected. We do not foresee, therefore, a significant tightening of regulations for people who are practising psychiatry and counselling.

With regard to the other settings where conversion therapy takes place, such as religious settings or behind closed doors, we would like to see the conduct of the practice itself banned, however it takes place. If it fits the aim of conversion therapy, we would like it to be banned, regardless of the setting. This stuff takes place in more settings than we can count. People might have an idea in their heads of what conversion therapy looks like—they may think, for example, that it happens at Christian summer camp, a one-to-one prayer group and that type of thing. However, that is not often the case.

I myself am a survivor of conversion therapy, and what happened to me happened at the hands of a parent, entirely within the family home. There was no organisation behind it—it was motivated purely by that parent’s homophobic beliefs. Over seven years, there was intimate abuse, psychological abuse and isolation from friends, peers and other family members. Barriers were put up to prevent me from accessing healthcare, because the situation that I was in would have come to light.

We feel that there is a lot of overlap between what happens in conversion therapy and what happens in cases of intimate partner violence, psychological abuse and coercive control. There are a lot of elements of psychological abuse. There is not often a straightforward or clear “procedure” of conversion therapy; it can take place over a series of years, entirely informally, on the basis of prayer or through forms of psychological abuse such as isolation, gaslighting and so on.


Tristan Gray

With regard to handling situations where that is happening in a community or a household, the second branch of what we are calling for, which is non-legislative support, is important. Without a strong reporting mechanism for survivors to come forward that provides them with support and counselling should they need it, we are unlikely to come across most cases of conversion therapy. In fact, that support and having a body that is capable of handling survivors’ cases is, if anything, as important as criminalising conversion therapy through a ban.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Thank you, Blair, for sharing your personal experiences, because it is always helpful to the committee to hear that.

As a sort of declaration of interest, I say that I was one of the MSPs who signed the pledge during the election campaign, and I was pleased, having signed that pledge, to be returned by the electorate.

To go back to an earlier question, what is your understanding of the prevalence of conversion therapy in Scotland? You touched on that in earlier answers and in your opening statement, but can you expand a wee bit on what the prevalence is now and what it has been over the past five to 10 years?

Blair Anderson

When we start to talk about conversion therapy, people often say, “Does that really happen?” and then, “No—really?” People do not think that it happens, but it does. It happened to me and it happens to countless others. On the prevalence, because of the nature of the conditions that people are in when they are undergoing conversion therapy—often, as I say, they are experiencing psychological abuse—fewer people come forward than are affected by it.

There were thousands of respondents to the 2018 national faith and sexuality survey by the Ozanne Foundation, and around 20 per cent of those said that they were either advised or forced to undergo conversion therapy. That sort of data pool is self-selecting. However, based on the demographics of the survey, 4 per cent of the respondents were based in Scotland. Therefore, conversion therapy is definitely an issue in Scotland. It happens to countless people. People have come forward to us as an organisation to say that it is happening to them, but they do not have the opportunity to speak out about it.

Fulton MacGregor

Is it therefore difficult to put a figure on it? As politicians, we sometimes look for figures, but I can understand how difficult that would be, given the situation.

I will move on to the main theme of my questions. As I said, I supported the campaign, and I probably made my position reasonably clear, but part of my job as an MSP in the committee is to scrutinise so that we can ensure that anything that the Parliament does is as good as it can be. Therefore, I want to ask some questions that might be in the more difficult bracket, if that makes sense.

I want to hear your views on the idea that some people might wish to seek support for what they might perceive as their discomfort with being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Tristan Gray referred to that, but please elaborate on it. On that basis, is it possible to have consent to any of these practices by organisations, where someone is not coerced but is seeking that therapy, for want of a better word? I ask that with the caveat of my comments at the start of my question.

Blair Anderson

It is useful to consider the fact that conversion therapy is not a form of therapy. In the first instance, it does not always take place in a therapeutic or counselling atmosphere. It can take a number of forms. Conversion therapy is not a positive, therapeutic or beneficial treatment, for want of a better word. It is often seen as a form of torture. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has said that conversion therapy violates the global ban on torture. The United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity said that some cases, depending on their severity and form, can amount to torture.

On that basis, we would say that people cannot consent to be abused or tortured. It is not possible for a person to change their sexuality or gender identity. It cannot work. Anything that comes from that process is based on trauma, suppression and the denial of fundamental and unchangeable aspects of who someone is: their sexuality and gender. We would say from the outset that we consider conversion therapy to be a form of torture and that it does not and cannot work. You cannot change your sexuality or gender.

There are cases where people may consent to it, although I have said that people cannot consent to torture. We are aware that people find their sexuality and their gender identity difficult. Most people who come out find that, especially those who grew up in very religious households. They will struggle with their sexuality and gender identity.

We are not trying to ban people from getting support to explore their sexuality and gender identity. We would not criminalise therapy or counselling in which people say that they are uncomfortable with their sexuality. More often than not, that discomfort will come from the setting in which they have grown up and where they have been told that their identity is sinful or wrong or that they are broken. That will have a traumatic effect on people and they will need therapy or counselling to undo those effects. We are not trying to criminalise people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender.

We seek to prohibit any process where people have an outcome in mind. Conversion therapy is based on the homophobic and transphobic belief that something in people needs to be changed or fixed. If someone goes into a counsellor or therapist’s office or has a one-to-one conversation with a minister or faith leader and the person on the other side of the table wants to “fix” them, that will never work. It is based on a false assumption that they can be fixed or changed, or that they need to be. We are not trying to prohibit people from being more comfortable in their sexuality and gender; we are trying to prohibit people from being forced to change or suppress their sexuality or gender, even if that comes in the form of group prayer.

It can be difficult to draw the line between what is consensual and what is not. If someone says that they are uncomfortable with their sexuality and that they want support with it, and if they have been brought up in a fundamentalist religious environment in which they have been taught since childhood that they are broken and need to be fixed, that is not truly consensual. They have been conditioned into believing that they need to be fixed or changed. We would draw the line at things like group prayer or any sort of treatment that is forced, pressured or coerced.

Fulton MacGregor

That is a robust response. When you said that a person cannot consent to torture, that was really strong. It might be the quote of the meeting.

A constituent asked me to ask my next question, which is in the same vein. What account have you taken of individuals who have detransitioned, or who might do so, and who change their gender identity?

Blair Anderson

We do not have first-hand experience or testimony from people who have gone through a detransition or who have developed their gender identity over the years. We stress that, provided that there is no presupposition of an outcome and no conditioning, coercion or pressure, people can freely make changes in how they understand their gender identity during their lifetime. Provided that there is no attempt to change or suppress that, we do not think that detransition would come under the remit of any legislation.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

I echo my colleagues’ thanks to you both for coming today. I, too, declare an interest—I signed up to the pledge during the campaign, and I was delighted to be elected to Parliament to support the work that you are doing. I also thank you for your strong personal testimony.

My question is about the comprehensive nature of a ban, which has been mentioned. I want to dig into that a little bit more, if that is okay. What is the importance of including both sexual orientation and gender identity in the definition of a ban and in relation to its comprehensive nature? What are your views on the approach that the UK and Scottish Governments are taking? Is one more suitable than the other? Is this something that we should be doing in Scotland, or should we wait to see what happens at the UK level?

Blair Anderson

On the issue of gender being covered as well as sexuality, we need to go back to basics to see that all this comes from the same principle—the homophobic and transphobic belief that someone’s sexuality and/or gender needs to be changed. In public life in the UK, and particularly in Scotland, we have a culture in which transphobia is often accepted and put forward by people in high-profile public positions. That is unacceptable from the word go. With conversion therapy, we would not be happy with any legislation that does not comprehensively protect trans and otherwise gender non-conforming people. It all comes from the same place—the hatred and bigotry that underpins homophobia and transphobia—and any ban has to protect trans people.

We understand that there are additional complexities. Transitioning can, more likely than not, be difficult for trans people compared with, for example, coming out for gay people, but we do not believe that there are additional barriers to protecting trans people in the legislation. Any legislation can comprehensively protect people’s sexuality and gender identity.

Tristan Gray

We will probably be able to provide you with a bit more information about this, but the Scottish Trans Alliance, which we know you will be hearing from next week, will be able to provide more expertise on the issue of conversion therapy with regard to gender identity.

On the approaches being taken by the UK and Scottish Governments, we are sceptical that the UK Government approach will provide a comprehensive ban that will be applicable in Scotland, given the announcements that it has made so far about who and what situations it will cover and its statement that it intends the ban to cover the territory of England and Wales, not Scotland. As a result, legislation needs to be progressed here instead of its being delayed, only for it to have to be picked up when it is inevitably found that the UK legislation does not cover the situation in Scotland.

We are aware that the Scottish Government has a lot on its plate, especially with the on-going pandemic, and there might be a delay in its introducing legislation due to that workload. It has committed to introducing a ban if there has been nothing from the UK Government or this Parliament by 2023, but we do not believe that there is a need to wait and we are confident that the committee will be able to progress legislation in that time.

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Good morning. It is nice to see the both of you here. I, too, declare that I signed the pledge. I want to thank Blair Anderson in particular for bringing his lived experience to the committee. It is crucial that we hear from you today.

You just touched on the legislative approaches that the UK and Scottish Governments are taking. Basically, that is about devolved and reserved powers. What can we in Scotland do within our devolved powers? Is there anything further that could be done in, say, education or health that a ban would not cover?

Tristan Gray

Everything that we are calling for in legislation that would be brought forward by this Parliament—the criminal ban, healthcare support and the setting up of a reporting service—would fall within its devolved powers and could therefore be implemented by it.


The one area that is reserved is professional certification, which would cover the professional certification of psychotherapists. However, all the organisations that are involved in providing those certifications have signed the memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy. They already consider that providing conversion therapy is a reason for disqualification of therapists from operating as certified providers of healthcare. As such, we do not consider that area to be a priority for any legislation to cover. If the UK Government covers it separately, that would be fantastic. However, it is not a priority and therefore not something that we have called for. Everything that we have called for would fall under devolved powers.

What further work could be done outwith the legislative process—in the education remit, for example?

Blair Anderson

The main headline of the ban would be the criminalisation of conversion therapy, but a lot needs to go alongside that to stop it from happening in the first place. That would include things such as outreach to communities where we know that conversion therapy is particularly prevalent and engaging with faith leaders to provide clear guidance from the top down in religious organisations. We think that that is all doable under the devolution framework.

Additional support can and must be provided for conversion therapy survivors. More often than not, conversion therapy leads to significant mental health issues. Surveys show that it leads to high rates of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation and post-traumatic stress disorder. I have PTSD from the experiences that I went through, but some seven to eight years down the line, I am still struggling to access appropriate healthcare for that. There is a need for specialist healthcare, which the Scottish Government and national health service could provide, if they are instructed to do so.

Thank you for being so frank, Blair—I am sure that members really appreciate that.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I, too, thank you for the frankness of your evidence and the personal testimonies that you have given today. It is useful for the committee to hear at first hand about your experiences.

I will focus on where we are on evidence. Can you give examples of how a legislative ban has been, and continues to be, effective? Can you advise us of any areas of best practice that we should look into when we are looking at how the evidence is being managed and processed?

Blair Anderson

One of the key benefits of legislation is that it provides clarity. Legislation in this area would explicitly state that the Parliament, and Scotland as a whole, condemns and prohibits conversion therapy. That statement of clarity could be immensely useful to people who are going through conversion therapy. When I was going through it, I did not understand what I was going through. It was only when I was out the other side of it that I came to understand it as conversion therapy. I went through it as a child. I did not know what support I was entitled to or what the options were. I did not know what the legal consequences would be, or about any protections that I would get, if I tried to remove myself from that situation.

Clarity and a statement of principle from the Parliament that conversion therapy is explicitly wrong and prohibited would provide lots of support for survivors, who would not just know that the support was there but gain a bit of clarity about the experience that they were going through. They would understand that what they were going through was conversion therapy and that there was criminal liability for the person who was putting them through it, which does not currently exist. That would be a key benefit of the clarity provided by legislation that prohibited it.

We believe that the best example of international best practice is the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021, which came out of Victoria in Australia this year. We have seen that come fully into effect, but there is a lot in the legislation that we would hope that Scotland could also enact and that would have tangible benefits for survivors.

Alexander Stewart

You have given us the example of what is happening in Australia. Any there any other international practices or benchmarks that the committee should investigate or analyse, so that we can collate as much information as possible to find out what is happening in other parts of the world?

Tristan Gray

The Australian state of Victoria has what we consider to be the best practice so far, which includes the criminal ban that we are calling for. Scotland—and this Parliament—would have to strike its own distinct path in the non-criminal legislative aspects. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission set up a body that survivors can report to. That body has the power to investigate claims of conversion therapy. Scotland has different circumstances and different public bodies. You would have to investigate which of those would be most capable of taking on those responsibilities.

Other countries have introduced similar legislation that we consider to be strong. One of those is Germany, which has a slightly different criminal approach to the one that we are calling for, but its non-criminal approach is similar to the one that we want. Unfortunately, because an election was called in Canada this summer, legislation that had passed the House of Commons and gone to the Senate has been put on hold. We hope that it will return in the next parliamentary session. That is another case of strong legislation that we would advise the committee to look at.

Maggie Chapman

I should also have declared an interest at the start. I support the campaign and have signed the pledge. I appreciate the witnesses’ frankness, openness and honesty. Talking about personal stories is not always easy and I appreciate your willingness to do that in a public forum.

This might be a little off piste, but you might not expect anything else from me. I know that you are specifically focusing on the LGBTQI+ community when you talk about a complete ban on conversion therapy. We are considering the legislation that is to come from the UK Government and whether we want to put something together ourselves. What would the consequences be if we were to expand that to include conversion therapy for people who are not neurotypical? Autistic conversion therapy uses the same kinds of coercion and torture that you have both spoken about. What would be the pros and cons of widening this out into a ban on all conversion therapies, not only those around gender and sexuality?

Tristan Gray

About six months into our campaign, we were approached by several autistic people who asked the same question. Unfortunately, everyone on our campaign team is non-autistic. We do not have the expertise or lived experience to take up that campaign. We have offered them our support with their own campaign and have shared the information that we have gathered over time.

Although there is such a strong overlap in the roots of autistic conversion therapy and LGBT conversion therapy that they could have been founded by the same person, we do not have extensive information about how that is happening to autistic people. As a result, we felt that it was not our place to take on that campaign, because we could potentially lead it in a direction that would not be supported by autistic people. However, we would be delighted if the committee has the capacity to alter any legislation to include autistic people and to take on the expertise of the organisations that represent them.

The Convener

That has been very helpful.

Obviously, the committee is at the start of a process of gathering evidence. A substantial amount has been submitted in writing by organisations and individuals. Some of that is going through a process before being published. However, we are keen to hear from you as to whether there are any further groups that we should be engaging with and potentially hearing evidence from as we go through our inquiry.

Tristan Gray

We know that, next week, you will be hearing from various LGBT+ organisations. We have been working with them for the past year and we know that they have a lot of expertise to bring to the table in advising you on how to progress with any legislation.

When it comes to dealing with the more complex areas of a criminal ban, engaging with legislative and legal experts who have experience with domestic abuse and coercive control would be an extremely useful direction for the committee to progress in, because we feel that there is a strong overlap at the edges of those criminal activities and the situations in which they are carried out. We therefore think that it would be useful to hear from such experts.

Blair Anderson

In addition, I sound a note of caution. Aside from the issues of territorial application by the UK Government, we as a group are not entirely convinced that the UK legislation that comes forward will be comprehensive—purely on the basis of who the people who are involved in writing it have been meeting. As far as I understand it, Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch, the people who are responsible for equality in the UK Government, have had meetings with the likes of LGB Alliance and the Evangelical Alliance—people whose intention is to open loopholes in that legislation in order to prevent protection for trans people and to insert religious exemptions.

As a survivor, I ask the committee to consider survivors first and foremost in the drafting of any legislation, and not to allow such loopholes to be opened up. It is a point of absolute principle that conversion therapy is wrong in all forms that it takes. That includes sexuality and gender, and it applies in places of religion. It is a form of torture. Torture should be outlawed outright, in all instances. We ask you to be mindful of that when, perhaps in future, you receive evidence or pressure from certain organisations whose intention is to open the legislation to loopholes.

The Convener

Thank you very much for that and, again, thank you for your openness today. Clearly, one of the groups from which we want to take evidence is a wider group of survivors. We need to do that as sensitively as possible because, although it is great that you have been able to come and speak so openly and give voice to so many people, we know that some people will not be in a position to do that, because of the trauma that they have faced. Rest assured that that is one of the areas that we are considering, and any suggestions that you feed in for that will be helpful.

Pam Gosal

Thank you, Blair, for opening up so honestly. Obviously, you had a lot of pressure from your family and certain groups. I want to know about barriers of language and culture. If those are a problem, how do we overcome them? That could involve any religious leaders or backgrounds. I know that you mentioned earlier that you did not see a lot of that, but if it comes up, how can those barriers be tackled?

Blair Anderson

As a cisgender white man, I am not necessarily best equipped to talk about overcoming cultural barriers. However, I stress that around 60-plus per cent of respondents to the national faith and sexuality survey that I have mentioned came from Christian households, as defined by what religion was taught in their home as a child. That includes various denominations. A further 20 per cent were from non-religious households. The issue is not exclusively religious but, more often than not, it tends to come from a place of religion or culture.

When it comes to overcoming barriers, I stress again the importance of outreach and engagement with faith leaders. We have had positive engagement, and the Ozanne Foundation down south has had very positive engagement with faith leaders across the board, across religions and across countries. That is a very important and clear step that can be taken by faith leaders. It would send a clear message if leaders of religions or faith groups, whatever form those might take, were to clearly state to all their followers, “This is not in line with our practices.”


My personal experience of conversion therapy was that it was not done at the hands of a religion or a religious organisation; it was one person’s interpretation of their beliefs, although they were part of a larger church. There is the potential for people to interpret their belief and faith in any way, but it would go a long way for faith leaders to send a clear statement.

Pam Gosal

Blair, you mentioned that about 60 per cent of respondents to the survey were from Christian households. Is there a gap in the sense that people from other religions have not come forward? Some people are quite open and they will talk about it, but there are many cultures that do not talk about these things.

Blair Anderson

Yes, that is more likely than not. As I said, it was an opt-in survey so the respondents were self-selecting and the results are, therefore, not entirely objective. There will be people from other faiths—non-Christian faiths—who are perhaps at more risk. For example, I am thinking about the barriers that people of colour face when accessing healthcare and reporting to institutions. I ask the committee to be mindful of such barriers. It is not confined to any one faith, and it is also not confined to faith. People can use their faith as a means of channelling their homophobic or transphobic beliefs, but that is not necessarily the case and it can come out in other ways. We are not an anti-faith or anti-religion organisation. Some of our biggest allies are people of faith and religious organisations. We would ask the state to step in where homophobic or transphobic beliefs are used in the context of faith.

Alexander Stewart

I will follow up that point. You have touched on the issue of faith, but the committee has seen evidence that, in about 20 per cent of cases, the conversion therapy was carried out by people in the medical profession or by healthcare providers. What lessons can we learn from that sector? That is quite a large percentage, and there are much stronger rules and regulations in that sector, on which, as parliamentarians, we can have more impact to ensure that the proper procedures are followed. What areas should we strengthen, and what lessons can be learned from experience in that profession?

Blair Anderson

Yes, medical settings are another significant place where conversion therapy takes place. That said, as we said previously, the NHS in Scotland, NHS UK and a number of sector-wide organisations have explicitly condemned conversion therapy. However, we know that that number of people have said that they have been advised or encouraged to undergo conversion therapy or had the issue broached in healthcare or medical settings. That is not to say that there is force or coercion in those cases, but guidance to all healthcare professionals is one step that could be taken on that. In particular, that could be done in the context of trans healthcare.

I was very pleased to see the Government’s commitment to trans healthcare reform. However, we know that the current trans healthcare system in Scotland and the UK more widely is not fit for purpose, because of gatekeeping and the barriers that trans people face when accessing healthcare. There is a lot of overlap between being unable to access healthcare and being unable to fully express your gender identity.

There is more to be done on guidance and training, but a clear message could be sent that all settings, including healthcare and religious settings, are appropriate settings for an affirmative and supportive approach to sexuality and gender.

Tristan Gray

I will return to something that the convener said earlier. On statistics, as a group, we are working with LGBT organisations to set up a survey to discover the experiences of survivors in Scotland. We hope that we will be able to provide that evidence to the committee later in the parliamentary session.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I am interested in hearing more about the survey that you have just mentioned. Do you have any data on the experience of disabled people in conversion therapy? My question is similar to the one that Maggie Chapman asked about neurodiverse people, but, although that question focused on changing people’s neurodiversity, I want to know about the experience of disabled people and whether they are more or less likely to have had some form of conversion therapy. If you do not have that data yet, could you work with disabled people’s organisations on that sort of survey?

Tristan Gray

Thank you for raising the issue. We do not yet have that information, but we will ensure that we make that outreach.

Blair Anderson

It is also worth pointing out that disabled people will face additional barriers with reporting these matters and being able to escape these situations. One of the biggest barriers that I faced was that I was 14 when my conversion therapy started—I was a child. I was unable to look after and provide for myself or escape to a different setting. Disabled people might also rely on, for example, close family members as care givers, and those barriers provide additional risks with regard to conversion therapy. As has been said, we do not have data on that, but clearly there are additional risks when it comes to being able to escape such settings.

Karen Adam

I want to squeeze in a final question. In asking about education earlier, I was thinking more of the school system. Does that have a role to play in this and in moving us away from a culture in which the default setting is cishet? Will you be linking with, for example, the time for inclusive education—or TIE—campaign, which I know has been very successful?

Tristan Gray

When we first put in our petition at the beginning of our campaign, we went to the TIE campaign for advice, because of its incredible success in campaigning for change through the Parliament. We are keen to continue working with it. Indeed, the non-criminalising parts of the legislation that we have called for should include outreach and education, and we think that the TIE campaign will have a lot to add on how that can be expanded through schools to ensure that children know what conversion therapy is, how to identify it and where to go if they experience it.

Blair Anderson

Schools will have a role to play in any reporting framework, given that, more often than not, one of the first people that children come out to is a teacher or guidance counsellor in their school. There is therefore a role for school education, and staff will need training and support to deal with what are very often complex and difficult situations.

With regard to the TIE campaign, having that road into schools would be an incredible step forward, and I hope that it would go a long way towards tackling the root cause of conversion therapy, which is not any one belief system, person or organisation but the underpinning homophobia and transphobia that says that LGBTQ+ people need changed, fixed or converted.

Hopefully, as the years progress, cultures will change and Scotland will continue to become a more accepting and inclusive society, and hopefully education will play a part in that.

The Convener

That is a really good point to end on. We have planned a number of evidence-taking sessions on this matter and are continuing to consider our approach to ensure that we are getting the widest range of evidence, but, for now, I want to thank you both so much for your evidence.

I suspend the meeting until 11 o’clock.

10:54 Meeting suspended.  

11:01 On resuming—