“Conversion therapy” is used as an umbrella term to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which have in common the belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) can and should be changed. 

Such practices aim (or claim to aim) at changing people from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to the gender they were born as.

Depending on the context, the term is used for a multitude of practices and methods.

An article published by the European Parliament says that LGBTI conversion 'therapies' are practices that can be defined as 'any treatment aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity'. 

Ways to implement them include psychotherapy, medication, electroshock therapy, aversive treatments and exorcism. An alternative term used to describe these practices is sexual orientation and gender identity-expression change efforts.

They can bring about suicidal thoughts but also permanent physical harm, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, shame, self-hatred and loss of faith. 

The World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a disease in 1990 and transsexuality in 2019. In their 2020 report, the independent expert mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council recommended that states ban conversion 'therapy'. 

The European Parliament has strongly condemned all forms of discrimination against LGBTI people, including LGBTI conversion 'therapies' and has made repeated calls on the member states to ban such practices. 

Within the European Union (EU), Malta, Germany, France and Greece have banned these practices, and many regions in Spain have placed administrative bans on them. 

Several other member states have proposed bills in this regard. While the various laws have a comparable structure, there are variations in terms of which LGBTI+ groups are protected and what entities are covered by the bans and the sanctions imposed. Moreover, the definition of conversion 'therapy' differs slightly from one member state to another. 

According to the UN, in February 2022 some 69 states around the world criminalised homosexual relations between consenting adults. 

The UN said the number meant that in just this one area of human rights violations, two billion people are being discriminated against on a daily basis – a third of the world's population.

Criminalisation has measurable consequences in terms of public health and access to education, according to Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s independent human rights expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mr Madrigal-Borloz has said he advocates for a world free of the criminalisation of gender orientation and gender identity, including the elimination of conversion therapies.

He has warned that criminalisation results in "young LGBT people dropping out of school three times more than non-LGBT people, or trans people getting HIV/AIDS, 47 times more than gay men - and even 76 times more than the general population.” 

In December last year Mr Madrigal-Borloz told MSPs examining the gender recognition reform bill (which proposed speeding up the process whereby a person can received an gender recognition certificate in part by removing the need of a medical diagnosis) that the evidence from other countries where self-identification is standard does not support fears about abuse of the system by predatory males.

The bill is now on hold after it was blocked by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and is now the subject of a legal dispute between the Scottish and UK Governments.