The National:

LOOKING back over the past 12 months and more, it can feel hard to find cause for hope amid so much bleakness. LGBT people in Scotland and the UK are among those who know that feeling best, as a backlash against our rights has enjoyed seemingly endless attention and support from a growing number of mainstream politicians, journalists, and even the Charity Commission. 

So, when a bit of good news comes along, like the commitment of all of Scotland’s five elected parties to banning conversion therapy in the next parliament, it’s worth taking a moment to bask in the potential of progress. 

It would be too easy to become downtrodden by the negativity which permeates the airwaves and saturates so much of our social media intake, but maybe, just maybe, the reality is more optimistic: Reactionary voices may be loud, but they don’t really have the kind of power they’d like us to believe.

READ MORE: Alyn Smith: Bigots must not stop us from banning conversion therapy across UK

Rather than being cowed into silence by the threat of pushback, the people behind the End Conversion Therapy Scotland campaign and their counterparts in England and Wales have spoken up and paved the way for the next step in the journey to true equality and dignity for LGBT people. 

The campaign has shone a light on deeply harmful practices which many of us were naive enough to believe could no longer be taking place in a supposedly progressive country in 2021. 

Defined as “forced conditioning” which “aims to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation, to repress or reduce their sexual attraction or behaviours, or to change an individual’s gender identity to match the sex they were assigned at birth”, it is shocking to learn that at least 7% of people in the UK have been offered this kind of treatment. 

It was reported just last year that half of Scotland’s eight dioceses and archdioceses promote conversion therapy groups under the banner of an organisation called Courage International. The Catholic Church denies that what Courage does should be described as conversion therapy, saying instead that it offers “pastoral support for those experiencing same-sex attraction who want to grow in holiness by living chaste lives”.

READ MORE: End Conversion Therapy Scotland welcomes cross-party pledge to end practice

Already, the Evangelical Alliance, of which 3500 churches across the UK are members, has asked the Government for a limited definition of conversion therapy which would protect exactly these kinds of activities on the basis of religious freedom. 

This calls to mind for me the 2018 film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, about a teenage girl’s experience in a Christian conversion therapy camp. A camp which, all things considered, appears relatively benign – if you forget the reason why they’re really there. 

In one powerful scene, a social worker inspecting the camp interviews the protagonist but insists he isn’t there to question the organisation’s mission, only whether or not they are abusing their wards. She responds defiantly: “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?”.

This gets to the heart of the issue, because whatever way anti-LGBT organisations want to spin it, there is no ethical form of conversion therapy. There is no compassionate way to convince someone to hate themselves. 

READ MORE: Smearing LGBT people to stoke a culture war is a cynical brand of politics

A survey of people who had undergone conversion therapy in the UK found that almost two in three suffered mental health issues as a result, including self-harm and suicide attempts. This is the true impact of this kind of “therapy”.

Nobody can truly stop themselves being gay, or bisexual, or trans – they can only choose to deny themselves the right to an honest and happy life. The idea that supporting someone to do just that is anything less than wilfully harming another human being is derisible.

By inspiring support for banning these practices across Scotland’s political spectrum, campaigners have helped reignite that little bit of hope, that motivation to keep pushing forwards. And that’s exactly what we’ll need to make sure this commitment doesn’t become just another broken promise.