Utah codifies ban on ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

Mar 23, 2023, 2:49 PM

A West High School employee holds a Pride flag and an updated Pride flag that includes colors for t...

A West High School employee holds a Pride flag and an updated Pride flag that includes colors for the transgender community and people of color, during a protest against Utah Legislature's passage of HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Laura Seitz/ Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz/ Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill Wednesday to prevent minors from undergoing so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice of trying to “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality or change their gender identity.

The bill, HB228, drew support from LGBTQ advocates, who worked with the sponsor, Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, to amend the bill to ban conversion therapy for minors while clarifying language existing in code that was concerning and confusing for therapists who worked with LGBTQ patients.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said the ban is the first in the country to pass both chambers of a state legislature unanimously. Williams thanked legislative leaders — including HB228 Senate sponsor Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville — for collaborating on the bill to end the practice in law in Utah.

“This misguided practice has done untold harm to LGBTQ Utahns,” Williams and Marina Lowe, Equality Utah policy director, said in a statement Wednesday. “We are grateful to Rep. Petersen, Rep. (Brady) Brammer and Sen. Bramble for working together with open hearts. We are grateful to Gov. Cox, President Adams and Speaker Wilson for encouraging us all to get around the table to find solutions.”

The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, also praised state leaders for the law.

“This is an encouraging step forward in the fight to protect LGBTQ youth across the nation from the dangerous and discredited practices of so-called conversion ‘therapy,’ said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns at The Trevor Project. “These harmful practices, which are associated with poor mental health outcomes and increased suicide risk, have been denounced by every major professional health and medical organization in the country.”

Although Utah effectively ended the practice of conversion therapy through a 2020 administrative rule by the Division of Professional Licensing, HB228 codifies that ban into law.

Petersen, who is a former counselor, said he sponsored the bill to address concerns of therapists who “stopped treating minors because of ambiguity in the DOPL rule and fear of reprisal if they were to say something nonaffirming to their minor patients.”

An early version of the bill would have loosened the 2020 ban by stating “verbal or written communication by itself does not fall within the definition of conversion therapy.” Equality Utah and other advocates opposed that version of the bill, saying it could have allowed “talk therapy” forms of conversion therapy for minors.

Petersen, however, agreed to make changes to the bill to address their concerns.

“We don’t agree on every issue on Capitol Hill,” Williams and Lowe stated. “We didn’t agree on every issue this session. But we are committed to always engaging with each other, working through conflict, and finding common ground where we can.

“To all of the survivors of conversion therapy, today’s victory was for you. We heard your stories. We shared your heartbreak. We promised we would end this harmful practice amongst licensed therapists. Today, Utah made good on that promise. … This is an incredible victory for LGBTQ Utahns, and an example to the nation.”

Early on in the 2023 general session, lawmakers passed separate laws that drew the ire of LGBTQ advocates by banning transgender-related surgeries and placing a moratorium on puberty blockers for minors. Cox signed those measures into law shortly after they passed both chambers.

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Utah codifies ban on ‘conversion therapy’ for minors