THERE’S a vile activity that is still largely permitted by law throughout these islands. It is both fraudulent in nature and serves only to break down the individuals it falsely promises to help. There has been much discussion of it recently, and it’s high time we did something about it.

I’m talking, of course, about LGBT conversion therapy. I took part in a debate (virtually) in Parliament at the beginning of the week on this matter, and I was pleased that so many SNP colleagues turned out to give passionate contributions.

As a gay man myself, I know I am lucky never to have had any close experience with so-called conversion therapy. As a reasonable person, I am someone who vehemently opposes the practice in all its forms. In preparation for the debate earlier in the week, I was shocked to discover the rate of people falling victim to this activity. The UK Government’s own 2018 survey of LGBT people found that as many as 5% had been offered conversion therapy, with 2% having undergone treatment in some form or another.

There is also a disproportional weighting on the transgender community. Some 9% have been offered conversion therapy, with 4% having undergone it in some form.

Let’s just stop and think about that. Coming out is an extremely tender time for people. There’s a vulnerability to it that cannot be compared with anything else that one might experience in life. Many people take all the time in the world just to come to terms with it themselves before even being able to think about discussing it or sharing it with others. There remains, even today, a stigma around being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Even in this country, some people do not have the support that they need from family, friends, or work colleagues – which can be devastating for them and their wellbeing. The effects of this can be measured on a population scale: evidence shows a higher rate of mental health problems among LGBT people, with one survey concluding that as many as one in eight have attempted to take their own life.

Now picture a person having gone through all of this only to be told that who they are isn’t right; that they can be changed. That an invasive “therapy” can make such a person a more acceptable copy-and-paste model to the misguided people promoting it. The impact is devastating.

READ MORE: Catholic Church told to shut down gay conversion therapy groups

Conversion therapy takes many forms. There is no firm definition, I suspect largely because it’s the type of activity that can keep reinventing itself in new ways. However it could range from false-psychological treatments (including “spiritual counselling”), to, in extreme cases, surgical procedures and even corrective rape.

I first raised conversion therapy in the Commons last September. It was World Suicide Prevention Day and I used the occasion to highlight that 70% of people who had undergone some form of conversation therapy had experienced (at the very least) suicidal thoughts. That’s a staggering number and, in my opinion, a standalone reason as to why these activities should be criminalised.

My remarks were responded to with warm words from a UK minister, who said I was “pushing at an open door”. Yet, we’ve still to see some actual action.

SNP MSP for Dundee City West, Joe FitzPatrick, spoke on this issue at Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee. He said it was a shame on us all that this kind of behaviour remains largely legal in Scotland. I agree. From a Westminster perspective, the tone of my contribution to this week’s debate was “let’s get on with it”. There is cross-party consensus on this; certainly enough to command a majority in either parliament.

The Holyrood Committee also heard that there may not be strong evidence conversion therapy is happening in Scotland on any large scale. That may be the case, but it is the type of insidious conduct that would take place behind closed doors rather than carried out in a well-publicised, open, and exposed way. Again agreeing with Joe’s remarks, that should not stop us from making moves to outlaw this activity entirely.

The only people left opposing a ban on LGBT+ conversion therapy are bigots. Let us not allow them to command the agenda when it comes to protecting minority groups from harm. I admit that getting the criminalisation of conversation therapy onto the legislative agenda of a government is a tough job. It is not high up the priority list of many people, particularly as we face some of the toughest challenges our country has ever faced through the course of the pandemic.

But it is a priority for those who have been through this abusive, harmful, and sometimes devastating treatment.

In Holyrood, as in Westminster, there are numerous ways of getting draft legislation on to the floor of the Chamber. However this is made much easier under government time.

Last year, Germany passed legislation banning conversion therapy. It’s illegal in Switzerland, Canada, parts of Australia, and some of the United States. It’s time that these islands caught up.

This is an issue of human rights and humanity. It’s an issue of compassion and care for our fellow creatures. Let’s not allow the bigots to hold us back in doing what’s right. LGBT+ conversion therapy must be stopped; it shouldn’t have a home in a modern Scotland.