Dozens gathered beneath the Utah Capitol dome Thursday to support new legislation that would outlaw conversion therapy with licensed therapists for those under 18.
The controversial therapy purports to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through a variety of methods. Young survivors told their stories of the damage it’s done, including 19-year-old Nathan Dalley, a student at the University of Utah.
“My friendships were strained because of conversion therapy and I felt extremely isolated from my peers. At one point, I tried to overdose on sleeping pills,” said Dalley. “I’m just thankful today that I wasn’t successful. Kids just like me are not as lucky as I am and it’s not OK.”
Conversion therapy has been associated with high risks of depression and suicide among minors. All of the nation’s major medical and mental health organizations have disavowed the practice.
The legislation would block licensed therapists from using the therapy specifically on minors. Nationwide, 15 other states have already passed similar legislation.
One of the bill’s Republican sponsors, Sen. Dan McCay, told those gathered that the legislation is a message to youth in the state — that this law is a step toward “the Utah we want.”
“This is what Utah does when Utah is at its best. We come together, we work together, we put our arms around one another and we try and find solutions,” he said. “This is the Utah we’re all going to fight for, for the rest of our time, so that we deliver a place to you that you are welcome.”
Although it’s unclear whether legislators will ultimately support the bill, it may have one less obstacle with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church Leaders had worried the legislation could infringe on free speech or religious rights, but after seeing the bill, the church does not oppose it.
Marty Stephens, chief lobbyist for the Church, on Wednesday denounced the practice adding that the church has opposed it for years.
“We hope that those who experience same-sex attraction will experience compassion from family members, professional counselors and from church members,” Stephens said.
Following years of conversion therapy, Arturo Fuentes said he feels lucky that his parents accepted him. He hopes the legislation will inspire more families to do the same.
Fuentes, 35, said he had undergone more than a decade of conversion therapy starting at 17, which left him depressed.
“I started to really normalize constant thoughts of ways for my life to just suddenly end,” Fuentes said. “I sunk so low that I finally told my parents at age 28” that he was gay.
Taryn Hiatt with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said the legislation is a good step towards preventing suicide in Utah’s communities.
“We know that suicide happens due to risk factors, but there is also protective factors that keep people safe,” Hiatt said. “ We protect this community when we affirm, when we accept and when we love. We are so grateful for this bill.”