CONVERSION therapy affects "countless" LGBT people in Scotland, a committee has been told.

The Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee heard evidence from Tristan Gray and Blair Anderson, representatives of End Conversion Therapy Scotland (ECTS).

ECTS submitted a petition to parliament on August 13 2020, which calls for a complete ban on any conversion therapy which is a “directed attempt to change someone”.

The committee heard harrowing evidence of Anderson’s lived experiences of conversion therapy and how a criminal ban would work in practice, amongst other details.

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Initially, Gray was asked to define conversion therapy by convener SNP MSP Joe FitzPatrick.

He said: “Conversion therapy can be best understood not as an attempt to change the box someone believes they fit in, but to change their behaviour to better fit the box that society or their community has placed them in.

“You can’t 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 to how they feel or to live in denial to prevent the abuse continuing.”

Anderson also told the committee of his own harrowing experience of conversion therapy at the hands of a family member and said there were “more settings than we can count” where it takes place.

The National:

Anderson told the committee of his own harrowing experience of conversion therapy

He said: “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 purely motivated by that parent’s homophobic beliefs and over the course of seven years there was very intimate abuse, there was psychological abuse, there was isolation from friends, peers and other family members. There were barriers put up to me accessing healthcare because the situation I was in would come to light.

“There’s lots of overlap we feel in what happens in conversion therapy and what happens in cases of intimate partner violence, psychological abuse and coercive control.”

Anderson added that any ban has to be “fully comprehensive to be worth the paper it's written on” and without any loopholes or exemptions, for example for religious leaders.

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Later in the session, after Tory MSP Pam Gosal asked what the impact on religious leaders would be, Gray gave more detail.

He said: “We don’t believe that freedom of religion is going to be impacted by any legislation brought forward.”

The ban would not impact on the right to practice freedom of religion, Gray said, but would provide protections for situations where people were pressured to, for example, to take part in prayer to “correct sexuality or gender identity”.

This is where the so-called therapy “crosses the line” into “an abusive situation in which the target of this pressure is made to feel sinful or broken for simply living and loving others as others do”.

Anderson later asked the committee not to allow any loopholes for religious leaders or faith groups to be included in any legislation.

The National:

Tristan Gray told the committee conversion therapy can take the form of "psychological abuse"

On the scale of the issue in Scotland, Anderson cited the National Faith and Sexuality survey 2018 undertaken by the Ozanne Foundation.

Of thousands of respondents to the poll, 20% said they were either advised or forced to undergo conversion therapy. Out of over 4500 respondents around 4% were from Scotland, Anderson said, which showed it is “definitely an issue in Scotland” as it “happens to countless people”.

Anderson then told the committee that conversion therapy is often seen a form of torture, and that “people cannot consent to be abused, people cannot consent to torture”.

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He added: “It is not possible to change your sexuality or gender identity, it cannot work. Anything that does come out of that process is based on trauma, it’s based on suppression, its based on denial, on fundamental unchangeable aspects of who someone is, their sexuality and their gender, so just from the outset we’d say we consider conversion therapy to be a form of torture and it does not work.

“It cannot work, you can’t change your sexuality or gender.”

The petition’s calls for a criminal ban on conversion therapy, healthcare support and a reporting service are all doable under the powers of devolution, the committee was also told.