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Bill Outlawing Conversion Therapy For Utah Minors In The Works

Illustration of depression.
Renee Bright / KUER

Ahead of the upcoming legislative session, a Utah LGBTQ group is preparing a bill that would ban conversion therapy, a form of psychotherapy that purports to help people with same-sex attraction to become heterosexual.

Conversion therapy has a long history in Utah, where around half of residents are affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has strict ideas about gender norms.

But it’s not without controversy. The American Psychiatric Association says it’s impossible to change a person’s sexual orientation, and unethical to try.

When parents try to change their children’s sexual orientation and take them to a therapist or a religious leader for conversion therapy, youth depression rates can double and suicide rates can triple, according to a 2018 study from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. In Utah, there’s been a recent trend of rising youth suicide rates, although a direct link to conversion therapy has not been found.

Regardless, the rise in youth suicide rates is a huge concern for Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, which advocates for equal rights and protections for LGBTQ Utahns. His group is pushing for the legislation that would curb conversion therapy.

“We’re seeing all these young people going through different forms of conversion therapies and they’re being pushed to the edge of suicide,” Williams said in a recent interview with KUER’s RadioWest. “This is why we need to push this legislation forward and end this practice here in Utah.”

More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have already banned conversion therapy. If passed, the legislation would outlaw the practice with licensed therapists for those under 18. It would not ban it for adults or with unlicensed religious counselors.

Clifford Rosky, a law professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, said it could be used to protect Utahns. He is helping to write the legislation.

“Passing a piece of legislation like this could help establish the consensus that this is an ineffective, harmful and fraudulent practice,” Rosky told KUER’s RadioWest. “If people were to continue engaging in it knowing that, that could help provide the basis for a lawsuit against such a person.”

Whether state lawmakers will pass such legislation is another question. A big part of that may hinge on where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands on the bill as nearly 90 percent of lawmakers in the state are church members.

The church, which has a website to address the issue of same-sex attraction, teaches that attraction itself isn’t a sin, but acting on it is.

A church spokesperson has denounced any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices. The church has not yet weighed in on the proposed legislation which hasn’t been made public yet.

The 2019 Utah legislative session begins January 28.

Unerased And LGBTQ Conversion Therapy In UtahA study shows that LGBTQ kids who go through conversion therapy are 63% more likely to attempt suicide. Monday, we're talking about it and about efforts to ban conversion therapy for youth in Utah. A recent study shows that LGBTQ youth who go through conversion therapy are 63% more likely to attempt suicide.

Daysha Eaton reports about religion and cultural issues, including social justice, for KUER.
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