The Scottish Government is committed to tackling marginalisation and discrimination in Scotland. We continue to promote equality and human rights and support strong communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe, where human rights are respected. This, of course, includes the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, plus (LGBTQI+) people. Read more about our work in our LGBTI and gender recognition pages.
Conversion practices are undertaken with the intention to change or suppress the sexual orientation or gender identity of another person. Conversion practices are harmful to individuals subjected to them. They are promoted within an ideology that views LGBTQI+ identities as wrong and believes that they can be changed. Their existence contributes to this way of thinking.
We are proposing legislation that protects people from the harm of conversion practices. In doing so, this will contribute to the broader protection of human rights and respect for the dignity of LGBTQI+ people.
We are consulting on detailed proposals for how we will address conversion practices in Scotland from 9 January to 2 April 2024. Read more in the consultation.
Read more information to support our consultation in the following sections:
- why the Scottish Government wants to ban conversion practices
- the purpose of the consultation
- what conversion practices occur in Scotland
- why existing law is insufficient
- measures to address the issue and protect the victim
- overview of the new criminal offence of engaging in conversion practices
- who is protected by the proposals
- how the proposals interact with other rights
- the expression of religious beliefs
- parental rights and responsibilities
- consent to conversion practices
Conversion practices are inherently harmful. They deny people’s right to express themselves and send a message to the LGBTQI+ community as a whole that their identity is wrong and can and should be fixed or suppressed. People in Scotland are entitled to protection from harm based on who they are or whom they love.
The impact of conversion practices on people can be lifelong. People who have experienced conversion practices have reported severe mental health consequences, including (attempted) suicide, depression, and anxiety.
Our proposed legislation to tackle conversion practices in Scotland is aimed at preventing the harm caused by these practices. Our approach has been informed by research, analysis and evidence from individuals with lived experience of conversion practices. It learns from and builds on the approach taken to other harmful practices such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse, as well as the experience of legislation to end conversion practices in other countries.
A growing number of countries and regions are banning conversion practices and Scotland is proud to further this international momentum and lead the way in the UK.
More information on why we are introducing legislation to ban conversion practices is in part 3 of our public consultation.
Consultation is an essential part of the policy-making process. It gives us the opportunity to get your opinion and expertise on a proposed area of work. See all Scottish Government consultations on our website. Each consultation explains the issues under consideration and provides a way for you to give us your views, either online or by post. Responses are analysed and used as part of the policy-making process, along with a range of other information and evidence. Responses to this consultation will help to shape legislation designed to address harmful conversion practices.
Evidence provided to the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee and the 2017 National LGBT Survey has shown that harmful conversion practices continue to take place in Scotland.
While there is currently no established figure on the size of the LGBTQI+ population in Scotland, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that, in the UK, an estimated 1.8 million people aged 16 years and over (3.3% of the UK population) identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual in 2022. In the 2019 Scottish Surveys Core Questions 2019 (SSCQ), 2.7% of respondents self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or other.
Read more in part 3 of our public consultation.
Some forms of conversion practices already fall within existing criminal offences, for example, if there is a physical act, the offence of assault. Conversion practices which take a psychological or verbal form such as therapy or counselling are unlikely to meet the requirements of existing criminal offences such as threatening and abusive behaviour, stalking or domestic abuse.
The evidence shows that most conversion practices in Scotland take the form of “talking therapy” or a pattern of coercive behaviour. We are therefore proposing to change the law to enable the prosecution of people who carry out harmful practices and for harm to be prevented through protective civil orders.
Research and evidence has identified a requirement for a multi-faceted approach to addressing conversion practices in Scotland. Our proposal is to create a package of measures that work together to prevent and respond to conversion practices in Scotland.
Depending on the type of conduct that has taken place and/or the specific situation of the victim, there would be three different routes that could be taken to address the issue and protect the victim (or potential victim).
A new criminal offence
This is aimed at the most serious instances of conversion practices and addresses two specific forms of conduct: the provision of a service, and a coercive course of behaviour, which will be criminalised when certain thresholds are met. It will also be a criminal offence to take someone out of Scotland for conversion practices
A new statutory aggravation
This will address conversion practices that fall within existing criminal offences. If a person does something that is already a criminal offence - for example assault, including sexual assault, or threatening or abusive behaviour - this would be considered more serious if it was committed with the intent that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity would be changed or suppressed.
A new civil protection order
This will provide a preventative and protective approach. It will provide an avenue to protect identified individuals at risk from specific behaviour, or to protect the community [from a repeat perpetrator].
For more information on the package of measures we have proposed to address conversion practices see Part 6 of our public consultation.
We believe that the criminal law should be used to address the most serious forms of conversion practices which are not adequately addressed under existing law.
The proposed new criminal offence will address two forms of conversion practices: the provision of a service and a coercive course of behaviour. It will also be a criminal offence to take someone out of Scotland for conversion practices.
For someone to be convicted of engaging in the offence of conversion practices, the following must be proven beyond reasonable doubt in court:
- Intent: that the individual accused of carrying out conversion practices did so with the intention that the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim would be changed or suppressed.
- Act: that either the provision of a service or a coercive course of behaviour took place.
- Victim: that the service or course of behaviour relates to a specific, identified individual.
- Harm: that the service or course of behaviour has caused the victim physical or psychological harm.
- Defence: the accused has a defence if their conduct was reasonable in all the circumstances
The proposals address situations where there is a proven intention to change or suppress another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, whatever that is. Most of the evidence that we are aware of relates to conversion practices being carried out with an intention to change someone from homosexual to heterosexual or from transgender to cisgender. However the proposals address the intention to change or suppress any sexual orientation or gender identity. This means the proposals apply to everyone equally.
The proposed legislation does not include situations where
- a person is supported or guided to come to their own decisions or explore their sexuality or identity on their own terms,
- a person acts to affirm another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or
- a person acts in a way that does not direct another person towards any particular, pre-determined sexual orientation or gender identity
The main aim of the proposed legislation is to protect people from the harm of conversion practices and protect the human rights and dignity of LGBTQI+ people.
We have brought forward proposals that protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to family and private life. These rights are protected under current law. In developing these proposals, we have taken care that the approach to ending conversion practices respects all relevant human rights and we have included a number of safeguards to strike a balance between potentially competing rights.
These include ensuring that the new criminal law only targets those acts that are harmful and coercive. We are also clear that conversion practices must be undertaken with a specific intention to change or suppress the sexual orientation or gender identity of the specific victim. They do not include general statements of opinion without this specific intention. The offence also includes a defence of reasonableness.
For more information on how we have considered these rights while developing proposals see Part 12 of our public consultation.
The Scottish Government greatly values the religious and cultural diversity across Scotland.
The proposed legislation is aimed at a particular form of harmful behaviour that seeks to change or suppress who a person is, using coercive and repeated behaviour or providing a service that is purported to be able to change them. This harmful conduct cannot be justified on religious, cultural or other grounds. The legislation does not address the general expression of traditional religious beliefs and will not impact everyday religious practice.
In order to fall within the behaviours to be prohibited by the proposals, the expression of religious views would need to be carried out as part of a coercive course of conduct in relation to a particular individual, for the purpose of changing their sexual orientation or gender identity and which causes them harm. The expression of religious norms alone will never meet the requirements of the proposed offences in the legislation.
We fully respect the right of parents and guardians to decide how to raise their children, including in line with their personal or religious views.
Our approach to this legislation fully recognises and respects the existing legal right to a private and family life and to parents and guardians exercising their rights and responsibilities in relation to their children. It does not prohibit parental guidance or questioning of decisions about a child’s welfare that is not harmful and motivated by an intention to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, where repeated harmful behaviour intended to change suppress a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity has taken place, our proposed legislation can provide critical protection for the children affected.
We do not believe that anyone can truly consent to conversion practices. Conversion practices do not work and they cause harm. Evidence shows that genuinely informed consent to conversion practices is very difficult to obtain.
We understand that people have views on this issue and have asked a specific question in the consultation in order to hear these views. For more information on why we have not proposed a defence of consent see part 9 of our consultation.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback