Utah lawmakers shut down proposed bill to ban conversion therapy

Photo by Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP

By Zoe Travers
Journalism Intern

A lot can change in just a couple of days.

Last week, a Utah bill banning conversion therapy for minors seemed ready to pass. The bill had gained sponsors in the Republican-dominated legislature and even the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Utah was set to be the most conservative state to officially ban conversion therapy, but then things took a turn.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of an altered bill proposed by Karianne Lisonbee that earned the respect of Gov. Gary Herbert.

In its original form, the bill would have banned “any practice or treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient or client.”

The substitute bill removed “gender identity” and more narrowly defined conversion therapy as treatments that promise “a complete and permanent reversal in the patient or client’s sexual orientation” and induce some form of “physical discomfort” like electric shock or vomiting.

This bill would leave transgender minors specifically in danger.

LGBT advocates spoke out against changes to the bill, as did the bill’s original author. On Wednesday, the bill was tabled. It will not advance this legislative cycle.

Troy Williams with Equality Utah said that language would do nothing to address practices associated with increased suicide risk, and Herbert's support shows he's not interested in protecting LGBTQ youth.

"Governor Herbert turned his back on LGBT youth, turned his back on leading experts and sided with conversion therapists," Williams said.

Conversion therapy has been banned in 15 other states and Washington D.C. It has a history in Utah, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once taught that homosexuality could be cured. The faith community has since condemned conversion therapy and taken a more liberal stance, but there are still oppositions to same-sex relationships.

After learning Herbert’s stance on the proposed changes to the bill, Williams resigned his spot on a gubernatorial suicide-prevention task force, stating that Herbert’s decision was contributing to an already drastic problem.

Utah has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the country due to religious discrimination and social rejection, and conversion therapy has disastrous effects on mental health.

Although the bill is not moving forward, activists like Williams will try again during the next session.

Copyright The Gayly 3/8/2019 1:27 p.m. CST