Metro Weekly

Utah governor orders state licensing board to protect minors by regulating conversion therapy

Gov. Gary Herbert expresses concern over techniques used to treat youth struggling with their LGBTQ identity

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert — Photo: Facebook

In a move that could one day lead to a ban on conversion therapy, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has directed the Beehive State’s Psychologist Licensing Board to “ethically regulate” conversion therapy on minors, due to concerns about the techniques used in attempting to change youths’ sexual orientations or gender identities.

In a letter dated June 17, Herbert wrote to the licensing board that he was troubled about “interventions using physical distress” and “the lack of understanding many parents have concerning so-called ‘conversion therapy.'” While he didn’t outright call for a ban on the therapy, Herbert did express concern about its effects on LGBTQ youth.

Noting that he’s not a psychologist, Herbert says he wants mental health experts to weigh in on the techniques used in the practice — particularly any physical methods, which can range from aversion therapy to forced vomiting to electroshock therapy. The letter also asks the board to “carefully consider how” psychologists can educate families that seek out therapists to change their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We’re going to turn this to the licensing people,” Herbert said in his monthly news conference last Thursday. “They’ll use the best available science. They’ll have the opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t work. What should be done. What shouldn’t be done.”

“This needs to be done in an area that should be governed by the best available science rather than left unregulated or regulated in a manner that is colored by politics,” Herbert wrote in his letter to the board, asking it to draft regulations governing the practice and make them available for public comment by Sept. 16.

Herbert also noted that the board’s input in terms of what types of techniques are acceptable could potentially generate ideas for a bill that seeks to curb or ban the practice. Earlier this year, a bill banning conversion therapy stalled in the legislature after two Republican lawmakers significantly amended the bill — without the main sponsor’s blessing — to remove protections for gender identity and to prohibit only those techniques that cause physical pain or distress, while allowing “talk therapy.”

Equality Utah, which fiercely criticized Herbert for failing to intervene when the bill banning conversion therapy was amended, praised him for input from medical and mental health professionals.

“Placing the burden in the hands of actual psychologists allows science, and not homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, to prevail,” Troy Williams, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Matthew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and a co-founder of the #BornPerfect campaign that seeks to outlaw conversion therapy in all 50 states, praised Herbert’s actions, noting that they will “save lives” by curbing practices that exact physical and mental harm on LGBTQ youth.

“This is a huge step forward for LGBTQ youth and their families in Utah,” Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Governor Herbert is setting a powerful example for other state leaders across the country about how to address the issue of conversion therapy and protect young people from this life-threatening practice.”

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