“Conversion therapy” is any of several dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Equality Utah, a group that advocates for equal rights and protections for LGBTQ Utahns, is pushing for legislation that would curb conversion therapy. If passed in Utah’s 2019 General Legislative Session, the Ethical Therapy for Minors Act would outlaw the practice of conversion therapy by state-licensed therapists for individuals under the age of 18. It would not ban the practice for adults over the age of 18 or by unlicensed religious counselors.
Clifford Rosky, a professor of law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, helped to draft the bill. “The bill basically explains that the practice of conversion therapy already violates the ethical and professional standards of every mental health organization that mental health specialists are members of in the state of Utah,” Rosky said.
Practices used in conversion therapy are also sometimes referred to as “Reparative Therapy,” “Ex-Gay Therapy,” “Psychological Abuse,” or “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE).” The American Psychiatric Association says that it’s impossible to change a person’s sexual orientation, and unethical to try, and “calls upon other lawmakers to ban the harmful and discriminatory practice.” A large number of other medical organizations have also denounced “conversion therapy” as a form of pseudoscience.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said, “Conversion therapy, in its various forms, still happens in Utah. And the effects have been devastating. The impetus for this legislation is truly about reducing youth suicide. We know that when young people are subjected to conversion therapy their suicide rates double, and attempts at suicide triple. It’s critical that we work together to end this harmful and dangerous therapy in our state.”
“The rate of suicide among minors in Utah is on the rise,” Rosky said. “Suicide is the leading cause of death among minors in Utah now. It is growing at a very high rate — one of the highest in the country.”
Rosky added, “If somebody has an issue with the bill, they haven’t told us yet.”
While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has yet to weigh in publicly on the proposed bill, it has launched its own efforts in the past to prevent youth suicide. A church spokesperson also denounced any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices and has disavowed past therapies to change an individual’s sexual orientation.
“There is momentum building across the nation,” said Williams. “Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have already passed bans on conversion therapy for minors. More are in the works, including our neighbors next door in Colorado.”
Students can track the bill’s status at le.utah.gov.
“We welcome students to contact their legislators and share their support,” Williams said. “We currently have a student-led letter-writing campaign to end conversion therapy. Students can contact their lawmakers and write them a letter detailing their views and experiences on the issue.”
Rosky said this bill can have an important impact on U students. “I think the thing to remember about these bills outlawing conversion therapy is that there is the actual impact of the bill, and then there is also the really important process of public education that occurs in order to win support for the bill. So it’s really important for the public to know about this bill.”
Rosky also noted that currently “there is nothing that should be preventing the University from offering support to students who have been through this experience,” citing campus resources including the LGBT Resource Center and the Center for Student Wellness.
“Surely there are people on the U campus who are survivors of conversion therapy and have suffered because of it, right?” Rosky said. “I think it would be very valuable for them to see the Utah Legislature confirm that they were subjected to a harmful practice, which shouldn’t be happening in the state of Utah and should never happen again.”
This article is part of the Poynter College Media Project. Click here for more stories and information on the topic “Are U Mormon?”