The governor of Utah announced this week that negotiators had reached a tentative agreement to restrict — but not ban — ex-gay therapy in the state.
Under the agreement, the Utah Department of Commerce will prohibit licensed therapists from providing ex-gay services to minors. The practice, which has been condemned by a wide range of medical organizations, will still be legal for therapists to provide to adults. In addition, camps and religious groups that are not licensed as therapists will still be able to engage in the harmful practice with youth.
What’s more, the bill from which the rule’s language was adopted allowed therapists to continue engaging in ex-gay treatment of their own children and grandchildren.
Barring any last-minute objections, the rule is scheduled to be published on December 15. It could go into effect as early as January 22, and LGBTQ+ advocates hailed the new regulation as a promising step forward.
"The Trevor Project congratulates our friends at Equality Utah and all the advocates who have worked tirelessly to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangers of conversion therapy in Utah,” wrote Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project in a press release.” As a survivor of conversion therapy, I am tremendously encouraged to see Utah on the road to becoming the 19th state to protect LGBTQ youth from this discredited practice.”
Conversion therapy survivor and NCLR Born Perfect Strategist Mathew Shurka agreed. “It is vital that our leaders support LGBTQ youth. We are grateful to Governor Herbert for his leadership and for making sure all youth know they are born perfect. It is lifesaving,” he wrote.
While 18 other states have enacted restrictions on conversion therapy, banning the practice in Utah has proven particularly challenging.
Attempts to pass an outright ban floundered in the legislature this year, so Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, ordered regulators to investigate a ban that would not require politicians to act. The licensing requirement was reportedly authored by a coalition of mental health groups, including the Utah Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers in Utah.
Public feedback was generally supportive of that effort, but the LDS Church raised objections, claiming that it would prevent church leaders from discussing sexuality with its members. The church called for “faith-based perspectives... in professional counseling,” as well as a legislative ban rather than a rule change.
That was followed by weeks of private negotiations with LGBTQ+ advocates and the church, which were ultimately resolved this week. The church has not stated why it reversed its stance and agreed to back the rule change.
Utah state Representative Craig Hall sponsored the attempt to ban conversion therapy in the legislature and acknowledged that it’s been a long journey. “We certainly seem to have a lot of consensus with a lot of different stakeholders in the state, and I truly believe that we have language that both prevents ‘conversion therapy’ and also protects the interests of the patients and therapists,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Utah has the sixth highest youth suicide rate in the country. Conversion therapy is known to have a detrimental effect on mental health, with 42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth who have undergone the practice telling the Trevor Project they considered taking their lives in the past year.
“What a beautiful way to start the Thanksgiving weekend,” said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams in a statement. “Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do, and we’re not at the finish line yet. … We’ll be back to work on Monday.”