Metro Weekly

Utah’s ban on conversion therapy for minors takes effect

Regulation makes Utah the 19th state to ban attempts to change youths' sexual orientation or gender identity

Equality Utah’s Troy Williams (left, at podium) speaks about the 2019 bill seeking to ban conversion therapy in Utah. – Photo: Equality Utah, via Facebook.

As of Thursday, Utah officially outlawed conversion therapy after a new regulation took effect that classifies the practice as “harmful” and a form of “unprofessional conduct.”

The rule, promulgated by the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, incorporates advice from medical and mental health professionals, most of whom say that conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is ineffective.

The rule also incorporates language sought by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to protect parents or religious advisers acting in a non-medical capacity from being prosecuted or losing their license if their religious beliefs discourage acceptance of homosexuality.

According to an investigation by the Salt Lake Tribune, over 95% of Utahns who weighed in on the proposed regulation via an online portal expressed support for barring conversion therapy.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) had previously asked the DOPL to issue the rule after legislative attempts to ban conversion therapy were hijacked by lawmakers who wished to allow some forms of “talk” conversion therapy that don’t involve physical abuse to continue. As a result, the sponsor of the bill chose not to move forward with the legislation, despite Herbert expressing support for outlawing the practice.

Last November, DOPL announced that the finalized language of the proposed rule had been adopted and that it would begin going through the final regulatory hurdles before being able to go into effect. Throughout the process, Herbert repeatedly said he would rely on the advice from medical and mental health professionals before taking action, although he also expressed sorrow at hearing “heart rending” stories of youth who had been subjected to conversion therapy, often against their will.

The Trevor Project, an organization seeking to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth, praised the ban as essential to protecting at-risk youth.

“The Trevor Project commends the State of Utah for taking bold action to protect thousands of LGBTQ young people in Utah from the discredited practice of conversion therapy,” Casey Pick, the organization’s senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs, said in a statement. “This is historic progress and further proof that protecting youth from this danger transcends regional or political divides.”

The Human Rights Campaign also praised the new regulation as a model that other states could follow. In addition to Utah, 18 other states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and dozens of municipalities across the country have laws or regulations in place banning therapists from subjecting minors to conversion therapy.

“This is a hopeful day for Utah’s LGBTQ youth, and we’re grateful to the leadership of Equality Utah and others on the ground who have been working tirelessly to make this day a reality,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, we have to continue to push for laws and regulations in every state and jurisdiction in the United States, so that no youth will be forced to endure this dangerous practice anymore.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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