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Utah Bans 'Conversion' Therapy For Minors

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(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Nathan Dalley, left, shakes hands with Republican Utah Rep. Craig Hall following a news conference about the discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children, now banned in Utah Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Dalley under went so-called conversion therapy.

Utah recently became the 19th state to ban a controversial practice commonly known as conversion therapy for minors.  

Conversion therapy aims to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  

It’s a practice discredited by most medical professionals, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, who have called it futile and destructive.  

Utah is the most conservative state in the U.S. to ban the practice.  

“This is a huge win, particularly for survivors of conversion therapy who have endured this practice,” said Troy Williams the executive director of Equality Utah.

Williams thanked Gov. Gary Herbert and his staff for their efforts to get the legislation passed after the first attempt at passing a bill banning the practice fell apart.

“Early in the process, Gov. Herbert said that science must prevail over politics and he kept his word to the LGBTQ community,” Williams said.

In the first go-round, a legislator opposed to the ban re-wrote the legislation to actually protect therapists who use conversion therapy. Williams said the LGBTQ community ignited and University of Utah students protested the re-written bill in front of the governor's office.

After that uproar, Gov. Herbert vowed to find a solution. He asked the board of psychologists, which regulates therapists in Utah, to write the bill. 

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The bill was actually modeled after a bill passed by the Nevada Legislature and signed into law by former-Governor Brian Sandoval.

Like Nevada's law, the ban does not apply to clergy, religious leaders, parents or grandparents. Williams said it is really designed to stop state-licensed therapists from using a discredited theory. 

The largest religion in the state of Utah is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has had its own conflicts with the LGBTQ community. Williams said his group went to the church first when it began its effort to get a ban passed.

“They’re concerned about the well-being of young people. We are as well,” he said.

Suicide among young people has spiked in Utah in recent years. Data shows an alarming connection between suicide and conversion therapy. A survey by San Francisco State University showed attempted suicides double when a parent tries conversion therapy on a child. Those rates triple when a therapist tries conversion therapy.

“This really became an effort to save lives,” Williams said.

When Equality Utah showed the LDS church leaders the data and shared stories of the people who had survived conversion therapy, Williams said, "hearts were opened."

When the group first started its effort to change the law, many people told Williams it was really a non-issue because conversion therapy wasn't really used anymore. 

However, Williams knew of several people who had survived conversion therapy.

“It was their stories that really turned the tide,” he said, “So, we brought these young people forward to tell their stories and it was harrowing.”

Williams said one of the big problems with conversion therapy is that it fails and the children subjected to it are left with the damaging effects.

“A child will feel a sense of failure. They failed their therapist. They failed their family. They may believe they failed their god and it’s that sense of rejection, that sense of isolation and alienation that increases their risk for suicide,” he said.

In addition, much of the therapy is based on theories about why a person is gay or transgender that are out of date and not based in science; ideas like a person is gay because his or her mother is overbearing or he or she experienced sexual trauma as a child.

“It really is destructive and damaging because it puts this wedge between a child and parent, blaming a parent for why a child is gay or transgender,” Williams said.

Williams said the therapy tells a child that something fundamental to who they are as a person needs to be changed and their impulse to love another human being is wrong.

He said the damage can last decades.

Guests

Troy Williams, executive director, Equality Utah 

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