Some of the controversy around plans to ban conversion therapy is reminiscent of arguments used in the 1980s, a founding member of one of Scotland's biggest LGBT organisations has said. 

And prejudice against transgender people today is as bad as it was against lesbian and gay people 30 or 40 years ago, Tim Hopkins, former director of Equality Network told The Herald. 

It comes after the Scottish Government launched a consultation proposing an end to conversion practices for LGBT people – which include methods like electroshock therapy and exorcism. 

Read more: Ministers 'reflecting' on conversion therapy ban concerns

The plans would see criminal offences and civil penalties introduced for those attempting to supress or change a person's sexuality or gender identity.

But there has been a backlash against the proposed ban, with some raising concerns about the inadvertent criminalisation of parents who do not wish their children to change gender.

Mr Hopkins, who is now policy advisor to Equality Network, said: “I think quite a lot of what’s been written about it has been incorrect. The proposals don’t go near what people have been saying. I’m not saying it can’t be improved, it can be."

He said it was "not surprising" that most of the controversy around the proposed ban is focused on transgender people. 

The Herald: Tim Hopkins is the former director of Equality Network, an LGBT equality and human rights charityTim Hopkins is the former director of Equality Network, an LGBT equality and human rights charity (Image: Submitted)

Mr Hopkins said: "Some people are quite explicit that they wouldn't mind a ban on conversion therapy for sexuality, but not for gender identity.

"That's not surprising to us. The level of prejudice against trans people now is where it was about gay and lesbian people 30 to 40 years ago. 

"The kind of things remind me very strongly of the things that were said in the 1980s, Section 28 for example. 

"Unfortunately we have still got a long way to go in terms of promoting public understanding of what it means to be trans, they are just like everybody else except their gender identity is different."

Mr Hopkins, who helped found Equality Network in 1997, said old arguments about protecting young people have resurfaced now about trans people. 

Read more: What is conversion therapy? Explained in five minutes

He said: "Exactly the same thing was being said about gay young people in the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher said in a speech that children were being taught they had the inalienable right to be gay.

"It was nonsense then and it's nonsense now."

Among the concerns which have been raised about the proposals, is of parents potentially being sent to prison for refusing to allow their children to change their gender. 

Mr Hopkins said: "To be an offence it has to satisfy three conditions. The conduct has to be coercive, it has to have an intent to change or to supress, and has to have caused actual harm.

"Most people would say you can't be going around coercing someone and causing them harm. 

The Herald: A protester against LGBT conversion therapyA protester against LGBT conversion therapy (Image: Getty)

"I think some of the details, some of the stuff about parenting – obviously parents do control their children to some extent and some of the things they do upset their children. 

"Clarifying the legitimate role of parents would be useful. Generally speaking though, a lot of the things being said wouldn't apply."

Some individuals opposing the ban have also argued that young gay people are being wrongly  encouraged to believe they are in fact transgender. 

But Mr Hopkins said: "All of our experience says that that's pretty much nonsense, it's simply not happening.

"There's no way organisations would be trying to persuade a young person who thought they might be gay that they would be better off trans, it's just ridiculous." 

Read more: Conversion therapy will be Scotland's next culture war

Conversion 'therapy'  is defined as a practice which is intended to change or supress a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. It can extend to physical abuse and coercive behaviour. 

As at least five per cent of the Scottish population is LGBT – and about two per cent of that number are believed to have experienced conversion practices – thousands of people are estimated to have been affected by conversion therapy in Scotland

"It causes life-long mental health damage and has a huge impact on people's self esteem, which can lead to suicide," said Mr Hopkins. 

"We have spoken to people who have attempted suicide on a number of occasions because of these issues. The overall impact can be devastating on people." 

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on ending conversion practices before introducing a Bill in Holyrood. 

The Herald: A protest against removing trans people from a conversion therapy ban in England and WalesA protest against removing trans people from a conversion therapy ban in England and Wales

Among its proposals are new criminal offences for people providing a conversion practice service or engaging in a coercive course of behaviour. 

Mr Hopkins said his charity does have some questions over the 'reasonableness' defence to any accusations of conversion practices.

He said: "Is it reasonable to say to a young trans man that chest binders can do harm if you wear them too often? I think most people would say yes."

But he said: "Most churches don't do [conversion practices] at all because they think it's wrong. But there are some religious contexts where we know this has happened. 

"If you are a religious body that believes somebody who is gay is going to Hell, isn't it reasonable to try and stop that person being gay? 

"They could convince the court that's within reason. This is why we are concerned about this defence."

Read more: 'Conversion therapy almost cost me my life'

And Mr Hopkins also highlighted that the proposals include civil protection orders. 

"We think that's really important," he said, "That there are non-criminal ways of addressing this behaviour. The criminal law is only one part of the answer and should be a last resort."

The consultation comes hot on the heels of a bitter debate in Scotland over gender recognition reform in Scotland, which aimed to make it easier for transgender people to be legally recognised in their acquired gender. 

The GRR Bill was blocked by the UK Government using a Section 35 order, and – after a failed Court of Session appeal – Humza Yousaf abandoned legal action to overturn it. 

Read more: The gender reform Bill court battle explained

Mr Hopkins said: "Just as it was in the 1980s, it's particularly useful for Conservatives to generate this culture war. 

"It's where we are in the moment in the UK. I’m sure this big debate will settle down. Eventually, things change. I think it’s really a question of growing understanding.”

The Scottish Government consultation into ending conversion practices is available to view online and closes at midnight on April 2, 2024.