Utah just banned licensed therapists from providing conversion therapy for LGBTQ children, making it the 19th state to prohibit the harmful practice.
Conversion therapy attempts to alter a person’s sexual or gender identity. The method has been proven inefficient and puts the person subjected to therapy at a higher risk of depression and suicide.
Republican Gov. Gary Hebert issued the ban, effective immediately, on Tuesday, after conservative lawmakers stalled the legislation in 2019, according to NPR. The ban does come with some caveats though — it does not apply to clergy, religious counselors, parents or grandparents, so long as they are not acting as psychologists.
Troy Williams, executive director of the organization Equality Utah, which has been fighting to outlaw conversion therapy in the state, pointed out that, under the consitution, no states have the right to regulate clergy.
"Yes, there are still religious pray-the-gay-away camps led by unlicensed life-coaches," Williams told Global Citizen, "But the state of Utah has now established a clear, evidence-based ethical standard. Our hope is that with increased education, more religions will repudiate these harmful practices."
When the ban was first proposed in November, Herbert released a statement that said he had learned a lot during the process.
"The stories of youth who have endured these so-called therapies are heartrending, and I'm grateful that we have found a way forward that will ban conversion therapy forever in our state," it said.
Many accredited health professionals, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, have discredited conversion therapy as a medical practice.
Utah banned gay "conversion therapy" for minors, which claims to change a person's sexual orientation.— AJ+ (@ajplus) January 22, 2020
The medically discredited practice:
▪️ Can include shock therapy, food deprivation
▪️ Is linked to depression, suicide
▪️ Is still legal in 31 states pic.twitter.com/VVVAgrcavF
In addition to the higher risk of homelessness, discrimination, and bullying at school, conversion therapy is one more threat to an LGBTQ child’s well-being.
Young people who were highly rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity were more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexual transmitted infections, according to a study conducted at San Francisco State University.
Herbert ordered Utah’s Psychologist Licensing Board to draft rules to regulate conversion therapy in the state, according to CNN.
The legislation initially received pushback from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. Mormonism is Utah’s predominant faith and condemns same-sex marriage and relationships, but also teaches compassion towards LGBTQ people.
"For LGBTQ youth in Utah, the threat of being sent to conversion therapy has been an ever-present source of fear, stigma, and despair and has sent a constant message that who they are is not okay," Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told Global Citizen. "The negative impact of that message is devastating and has helped to fuel Utah’s skyrocketing rates of youth suicide."
Herbert said he was able to find common ground between LGBTQ rights activists and the Mormon Church once he agreed to make a clarification for spiritual counseling and families.
"Utah’s new rule sends a powerful message to LGBTQ youth that state officials care about their health and well-being and that they are born perfect," Minter said.