Utah State Capitol – Photo: LoneStarMike, via Wikimedia.
The state of Utah has proposed a final rule aimed at banning conversion therapy on minors following the addition of language meant to assuage concerns raised by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On Tuesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) announced that he was directing the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which regulates licensed mental health therapists, to file the new rule.
The chief change to the rule incorporates weeks of feedback from activists, medical professionals, and religious groups, including the LDS Church, which is highly influential in heavily-Mormon Utah. The DOPL also sought input from ordinary Utahns as part of a public comment period. While the comments were not initially released to the public, when they were, following an open records request, over 95% of the comments expressed support for the rule barring conversion therapy.
The church had initially objected to an earlier version of the proposed rule that designated conversion therapy as a “harmful practice” and declared attempts by therapists to engage in forms of “unprofessional conduct.” Specifically, the church opposed the rule due to the lack of language explicitly exempting therapists who are parents, relatives, or members of the clergy and are acting in a capacity as a religious or spiritual advisor, rather than in a professional capacity.
But the rule now adopts language containing those exemptions, and that appeared in a bill to ban conversion therapy that was defeated during this year’s legislative session. As such, the LDS Church no longer opposes the rule.
In a statement, Herbert praised the compromise, which will make Utah the 19th state to ban efforts to change LGBTQ youths’ sexual orientation and gender identity when the rule is adopted.
“I have learned much through this process,” the governor said in a statement. “The stories of youth who have endured these so-called therapies are heart rending, and I’m grateful that we have found a way forward that will ban conversion therapy forever in our state. I’m grateful to the many stakeholders who came to the table in good faith, with never-ending patience.”
Under the rule-making process, the compromise rule will be published in the Dec. 15 issue of the Utah administrative bulletin. That will trigger an automatic 30-day comment period that will conclude on Jan. 15, 2020. Under the statute, the rule will go into effect seven days later, on Jan. 22 — five days before Utah’s 2020 legislative session begins.
The reaching of a compromise that both sides can agree to is significant, as it now allows the executive branch to circumvent the legislative branch, meaning conservative lawmakers who previously sought to allow some forms of “talk” conversion therapy to continue will not be able to intervene by upending the proposed rule.
Equality Utah, the statewide LGBTQ organization, praised the rule and its eventual implementation, saying it would protect minors from a “dangerous, discredited practice.”
“We are profoundly grateful to the Herbert Administration for the thoughtful and meticulous manner in which they have worked to protect LGBTQ youth,” Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, said in a statement. “This summer, Governor Herbert declared that science would prevail over politics, and he has kept his word. Today, Utah is a safer state for our youth to live and thrive.”
The Trevor Project also praised the new rule and congratulated those who worked to ban the practice.
“As a survivor of conversion therapy, I am tremendously encouraged to see Utah on the road to becoming the 19th state to protect LGBTQ youth from this discredited practice,” Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, said in a statement. “The rules put forward today by the Governor will protect thousands of young people in Utah, and galvanize momentum to protect youth across the country. Our research shows that one accepting adult in the life of an LGBTQ young person made them significantly less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. Knowing that their state government has their back will literally save lives.”
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