Governments should look beyond legislative bans in efforts to end conversion therapy, an international legal expert has told MSPs examining the issue.

Dr Christine Ryan, senior legal adviser to the UN special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, said states should affirm people’s sexual orientation and gender diversity.

Holyrood’s Equalities Committee heard evidence from a number of different groups and experts as it discussed a petition to end conversion therapy.

Campaigners want to see a ban on conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

All Holyrood’s political parties backed an end to conversion therapy during the election campaign and the co-operation agreement between the SNP and Scottish Greens committed to introduce legislation banning it by 2023.

Dr Ryan, an international human rights lawyer, said states had an obligation to “protect individuals from practices aimed at changing or suppressing their sexual orientation or gender identity”.

She said: “Fulfilling the state’s duty to end conversion practices is going to require more than a legislative or regulatory ban.

“Conversion practices stem from systemic privileging of a heterosexual cisgendered norm and from discriminatory belief systems.

“States need to take measures to affirm sexual orientation and gender diversity.”

Dr Ryan said she welcomed the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act by the Scottish Government, which would simplify the process by which transgender people can obtain legal recognition of their gender.

Dr Adam Jowett, of Coventry University, described his research into conversion therapy for a UK Government study.

He said: “We found no robust evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“But there is a growing body of evidence that exposure to conversion therapy is associated with poor mental health, including depression and suicidal thoughts.”

The committee also heard from researchers from the Australian state of Victoria, which recently brought in its own ban on conversion practices.

Nathan Despott, of the Brave network, an advocacy group for LGBT people of faith, gave a presentation to the MSPs on the impact of the Victorian legislation.

He said the phrase “conversion practices” was more useful than “conversion therapy” at identifying the issue.

While the law had caused some backlash from conservative and Christian groups, he said the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill could only lead to prosecutions where there was intent to cause “injury or serious injury”.

Earlier, the committee heard evidence from several groups which had concerns around a ban on conversion therapy in Scotland.

Peter Lynas, of the Evangelical Alliance, said while his organisation supported a ban on coercive and abusive behaviour there was a lack of clarity on what constituted conversion therapy.

Piers Shepherd, a researcher with the Family Education Trust, said: “Coercive and abusive practices are clearly wrong.

“But the proposed ban is so broad, it appears to attempt to impose highly contested social and political views in a manner that discriminates against those who don’t share such views.”