Utah conversion therapy bill’s substitute is counterproductive


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HB399 has passed Utah’s House committee. There are currently 15 states and DC with laws banning conversion therapy.

Recently, a Utah bill banning conversion therapy for minors passed the state’s House committee. If made law, HB399 will make Utah the 16th state in the U.S. to prohibit the controversial practice of attempting to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar to that of other states, the bill states that it wouldn’t apply to religious counselors. While it may not be ideal, this language contributed to earning support from the highly influential Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church, which now condemns the abusive practices done in conversion therapy. However, HB399’s path to becoming a law abruptly ended when several lawmakers introduced a substitute bill.

The alterations significantly changed the original bill in a number of ways. They weakened the ban by taking away any mention of gender identity, therefore no longer providing protection to transgender youth and also narrowed down the official definition of conversion therapy to exclude most forms of talk therapy, ensuring that at least one form of conversion therapy would still be permitted. This ruins the point of the bill, although Utah governor Gary Herbert doesn’t seem to think so, since his support switched from the original bill to the new one.

In recent years, suicide has become a leading cause of death in Utah teens, with LGBTQ youth being at a greater risk than others due to the glaring homophobia of Utah society, and in particular, the Mormon church. In an effort to prevent more suicides, Herbert created the Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force, comprised of members from Equality Utah, the LDS church and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, among other experts. Many on the task force went into HB-399’s hearing with hopes of ending all forms of conversion therapy and protecting all LGBTQ youth. But with the proposed substitute bill, it doesn’t seem like any of that will be happening.

Let’s be clear- conversion therapy is horrible and has been scientifically proven to be ineffective. It’s been denounced by many major health organizations and studies have found it to cause seriously negative impacts in the mental health of those subjected to it. With all of this information, the main argument behind the useless and inefficient substitute bill is that the lawmakers are worried about the free speech rights of therapists when meeting with their clients. However, when therapists criticize their clients’ sexual orientation or gender identity, they’re basically putting the client through talk therapy, which is a form of conversion therapy, even though it doesn’t cause the “physical discomfort” mentioned in the bill.

After Herbert voiced his support of the substitute bill, Equality Utah’s executive director Troy Williams and America Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s area director Taryn Hiatt both resigned from the Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force. In his resignation letter to the Governor, Williams stated that Herbert broke his promise of protecting LGBTQ youth.

“Yesterday, Governor, you turned your back on LGBTQ youth and the medical and mental health establishment. By endorsing Rep. Lisonbee’s hostile substitute, you effectively cast your lot with a band of discredited and dangerous conversion therapists, who are still practicing techniques that harm youth — some lethally”, Williams said. “I will not be window dressing to provide the Task Force cover. If you change your mind and wish to seriously engage the LGBTQ community, you know where to find me.”

Conversion therapy needs to be abolished. It is immoral, wrong and severely detrimental to “patients’” mental health. Utah politicians need to take their homophobic beliefs and put them aside, even for a moment, to protect LGBTQ youth and their invaluable lives.