LGBT+ People of Colour and Minority Ethnic Faith Community Experiences of Conversion Practices
Guiding Principles for Ensuring Legislation Protects and Supports People of Colour and Black and Minority Ethnic Communities
The National LGBT survey found that minority ethnic respondents were up to two times more likely to be offered, or to have undergone, conversion therapy than white respondents. Transgender respondents within black minority ethnic and people of colour communities are at even greater risk.
We heard from House of Rainbow, Sarbat Sikhs, Shakti Women's Aid, and The Naz and Matt Foundation that without proper consideration of the impact of measures under criminal law and civil measures upon minority ethnic faith communities and communities of colour, there will be unintended consequences, including risks to victims and survivors of conversion practices within the LGBT+ community.
Having carried out stakeholder engagement and a literature review on conversion practices and the shape that they take in minority ethnic faith communities, and in communities of colour in the UK, we have been able to highlight key themes and develop guiding principles for the Scottish Government to consider, as set out below. The full report which is referenced in the section can be found on the Scottish Government website.
27. Understand risk factors in diverse communities
There are legitimate concerns and feelings of apprehension around reporting of conversion practices in communities which have experienced historical prejudice and discrimination within the criminal justice system. Considerable work will be required within communities to understand these risks, to safeguard, and to provide awareness and understanding about the legislative measures and support available.
Through our evidence gathering sessions, we were made aware that people of colour and those within minority ethnic faith communities tend to experience conversion practices differently to the wider population.
28. Consider suppression, cultural coercion and consent within diverse cultures
People are both 'pushed' and 'pulled' towards conversion practices (Ogunmuyiwa). The 'push' often refers to an overarching culture and environment of anti-LGBT+ sentiment, derogatory language, messages, and sometimes accompanied by threats of abuse, force, violence, and coercion. The 'pull' refers to factors that make people more likely to want to undergo conversion practices - the desire to be accepted, fit into the norm, to not bring 'dishonour' and 'shame', and to not feel 'wrong' or be isolated from their community.
It is vital to understand the relationship between these factors as it explains why people voluntarily suppress their own identity or 'consent' to conversion practices.
Family, faith, and community are an integral part of life and identity for many people of colour and of minority faiths and indeed in all cultures, often being inseparable from their sense of self. According to Sarbat Sikhs, there is a cultural fear of rejection amongst Sikh and South Asian LGBT+ people – this fear of rejection encompasses a fear of losing both one's faith and one's family.
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, and forced marriage is often used as a form of conversion practice.
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.
29. Consider reconciliation of sexual orientation, expression of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and religious identity
Being LGBT+ can conflict with religious values and beliefs, causing an internal struggle, with feelings of living a "double life", and difficulty reconciling these parts of self.
External and internal pressure to conform can create feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, low self-esteem, feeling "out of place", uncomfortable, "abnormal" and "bad", with people feeling like they do not belong or are living fraudulently, as this quote from the LGBT+ People of Colour & Minority Ethnic Faith Experiences of Conversion Practices report demonstrates: "I feel like I'm not a Hindu, I'm not an Indian, I feel like a complete fraud." This conflict can be a source of "minority stress", and with few services available that have understanding of this, many people of colour and of minority faiths can feel invisible or unable to access any community or place of support as their whole self.
This internal conflict and difficulty in reconciling being LGBT+ with religious identity acts as a strong pull factor towards consenting to conversion practices.
30. Consider diverse practices and family: honour, dishonour, abuse and shame
Structural organisation of some faiths is not centrally regulated – mosques, Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras are guided by individuals as their own entities. This means that diverse schools of thought can exist, and that some are set up with ideologies analogous with conversion practices. This affects the ways in which conversion practices occur – conversion practices can happen in an unorganised and more hidden setting, for example in a small temple or in a home setting.
Honour, and honour abuse, play a large role in conversion practices within minority ethnic communities. Stakeholder research has informed us that many LGBT+ South Asian Muslim people have their sexual orientation, expression of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression suppressed with the threat of bringing dishonour and shame on their family and/ or honour based abuse, from both immediate and extended family.
Asma, a survivor of conversion practices, described the power of the "continued threat of violence" stating that honour abuse as a form of conversion practice is often couched in manipulation – a way of controlling people with fear from early childhood. Asma explained that thoughts and beliefs become embedded and become hard to overcome, even many years later, leading to seeming 'consent' to forced marriage, and suppression/conversion of identity.
It is important to understand how the idea of honour or dishonour may affect reporting of conversion practices. Honour Abuse Research Matrix found that "fear of damaging family reputations and/or being outed within their community [...] lack of police resources to make reporters safe, perceived lack of support, trust or racism from the police" all contributed to underreporting, with a need for greater awareness of the difficulties faced by South Asian LGBT+ people at risk of 'honour' abuse and violence in the UK.
There is a need to consider the diverse forms that conversion practices take. The types of practices carried out in some spaces, according to research and qualitative stakeholder engagement, can include water boarding, forced marriage, beatings, hitting, burning, 'black magic,' corrective rape, isolation, abduction and forced fasting.
31. Consider institutional racism and underrepresentation in policy development
The Group believes that ethnic minority communities tend to be underrepresented in responses to government consultations and design of policy and legislation, as well as in quantitative data collected.
Without full and significant engagement with communities of colour and minority ethnic faith communities on how measures under criminal law to end conversion practices will be shaped, and without allowing for flexible modes of reporting and outcomes, it is strongly felt by stakeholders that LGBT+ people of colour and black and minority ethnic people may be subject to further risk and harm. This includes driving practices more underground, fear of putting one's community at risk of criminalisation, and fear of being wrongfully targeted by a police force that we believe historically and currently has issues of institutional racism.
Legislation should allow for confidential engagement and discretion, and needs not to criminalise in the first instance, enabling survivors to choose to engage only with the civil scheme should they wish. The legislation should provide multiple pathways to seek reparation and support, where the potential victim has full autonomy.
32. Consider the need for culturally competent support and capacity building
The LGBT+ sector in Scotland is aware that many LGBT+ people do not access mainstream services and this is particularly true for LGBT+ people of colour and LGBT+ people within minority faiths.
Accredited counsellors and services may lack sensitivities or knowledge around both LGBT+ identities and people of colour, particularly in large mainstream bodies. Very few culturally competent services could or do cater to marginalised LGBT+ people of faith, and many LGBT+ spaces cannot or do not provide this support either.
Secondary barriers to accessing support exist, including some cultural beliefs around mental illness and reaching out for mental health support.
As noted in the LGBT+ People of Colour & Minority Ethnic Faith Experiences of Conversion Practices report services for people of colour and minority ethnic LGBT+ communities are "scarce and are often provided by informal non-profit organisations led by volunteers and community members", with no or limited funding.
It is imperative to have more widely available support for potential victims and survivors of conversion practices through capacity building and long-term investment in grassroots organisations.
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