Metro Weekly

Utah’s Republican Governor: Conversion therapy is “barbaric” and “ought to be eliminated”

Gov. Gary Herbert slammed the ineffective practice ahead of a vote that would ban conversion therapy in the state

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert — Photo: Facebook

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, has indicated his support for a ban on conversion therapy in the state.

In a press conference Thursday, Herbert branded conversion therapy — which attempts to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity — “barbaric” and said it “ought to be eliminated.”

“I think conversion therapy, how we define conversion is the key issue there, but some of the things being done to young people seem to be barbaric, and ought to be eliminated,” Herbert said. “I have no problem with some of the conversion methods being banned. I think they’re not productive.”

Conversion therapy — a practice rejected by most mainstream medical professional associations — can involve talk therapy with a counselor, or more extreme methods of aversion therapy, such as electroshock therapy or forced vomiting.

It has been widely denounced as ineffective, particularly by former “ex-gay” advocates and conversion therapy figureheads.

Gov. Herbert spoke ahead of a vote on bipartisan legislation that would outlaw conversion therapy in Utah.

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Daniel McCay (R-Riverton) and State Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley City) on February 21, would prohibit licensed therapists and mental health counselors from subjecting LGBTQ youth to more extreme forms of aversion therapy, such as electroshock therapy or forced vomiting.

The bill also prevents “talk therapy” whose sole aim is to suppress or change a person’s orientation or identity, instead of constructive recommendations such as changing bad habits or unhealthy behaviors — which would not be banned under the bill.

“I’m proud to sponsor legislation that protects children from the harmful and discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy,” Hall said in a statement at the time. “This legislation establishes regulatory standards and will have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth.”

The bill also continues specific language that protects pastors’ religious liberty, a decision that resulted in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stating it would not oppose the legislation.

Equality Utah praised the introduction of the bill, and called conversion therapy “devastating” for those subjected to it.

“For decades, LGBTQ Utahns have been subjected to the harmful and fraudulent efforts of conversion therapy, and it’s sadly still happening,” Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, said in a statement. “We still meet young people who are being told they can change their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the impacts are devastating.”

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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