They are done in the misguided belief that to be lesbian, gay, bi, or trans is wrong, and that it is better to be straight, not trans. These harmful practices happen in counseling rooms, prayer rooms, at home, and take different shapes.
Wherever or however they happen, they have long-lasting harmful effects on people’s well-being and mental health. And of course they don’t work.
The UK Government committed several years ago to banning these practices in England and Wales. But, the week before last, they first said they wouldn’t ban them at all, and then, under immense pressure from LGBT equality organisations, changed their mind. Sort of. They now plan to ban conversion practices aimed at lesbian, gay and bi people, but not those aimed at trans people.
Evidence shows that across the UK, trans people are at greater risk of being offered or experiencing conversion practices than lesbian, gay and bi people who aren’t trans. So how can a ban that leaves out those who are most affected by any kind of ban at all?
If a teenager, confused about a crush on someone the same gender as them, approaches a school counselor for support, they should be met with compassion and kindness, and have all the space they need to talk about how they’re feeling. Maybe they’ll go on to be lesbian, gay, or bi. Or maybe they won’t.
All of those outcomes are totally fine – what matters is that they aren’t told that it would be wrong to be lesbian, gay or bi, that being so would make their life harder, or might upset their family.
Conversion therapy: What is conversion therapy and will there be a ban in the UK…
So if another teenager, confused about how they are feeling about their gender approaches that same school counsellor, what should they expect? Exactly the same. Maybe they’ll go on to be trans. Or maybe they won’t. Both are OK.
Either way, they should similarly be met with compassion and kindness, and have all the space they need to talk about how they’re feeling with support where needed, so they can be comfortable in their skin. But what is not OK is for them to be told that it is wrong to be trans, and that it can or should be changed.
Both agree that a ban in Scotland should protect everyone. This is the right thing to do. Whether we’re straight, lesbian, gay, bi, asexual, cis, trans, non-binary, or any of the other wonderful ways that people come to understand themselves, we all deserve the time, support, and space we need to figure out that out ourselves.
Over the last week, we’ve seen protests in England and Ireland objecting to the UK Government’s decision. It’s been heart-warming to see people come together to tell them in the strongest terms: there is nothing wrong with being trans, we are who we are.
And we deserve, as much as anyone, to be protected from these harmful practices from people who think otherwise.
Vic Valentine is manager of Scottish Trans
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.