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Bill Seeks to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ for Minors in Utah

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The Utah State Capitol | The Daily Utah Chronicle archives


“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

“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?”

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    Erin BrewerFeb 8, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Equality Utah and other trans activists have suggested that gender confused children will kill themselves if they are not allowed to transition. Equality Utah is proposing to legislate how therapists are allowed to provide treatment to children who do not identify with their body’s sex, they claim, in an attempt to reduce the suicide rates in Utah.
    Those who believe this are aghast at my opposition to Equality Utah’s legislation. How could anyone block legislation that would prevent children from committing suicide?
    Equality Utah is using archaic examples of something they are calling “conversion” therapy to bolster its claim that therapy should be legislated. They cite cases where homosexuals have been electrocuted in an attempt to “covert” them to heterosexuality. This kind of barbaric treatment is prohibited by the American Psychiatric Association. Equality Utah admits that The Ethical Therapy for Minors Act would not legislate “conversion” treatment by religions or other private groups, it would only cover licensed therapists. Their Act would do nothing to address the very kinds of treatments that are abhorrent.
    So, why would I oppose The Ethical Therapy of Minors Act, especially because they say it would prevent children from committing suicide.
    Equality Utah, along with many other LGBTQ groups have adopted a philosophy regarding children with gender identity issues; children should be transitioned to the gender they identify with, first socially, and as they reach puberty, medically.
    Social transitioning involves allowing a child to publicly change to the gender they identify with. Doing so often involves a name change, a change in the pronouns used to describe the child, as well encouraging the child to behave in ways that are stereotypical of the gender the child identifies with.
    Medical transitioning involves giving a child puberty blockers that have not been approved for use in healthy children, starting as early as the age of eight, followed by giving the child cross-gender hormones that have not been approved for the use in a healthy child, around the age of fourteen, and potentially “top” surgery at the age of sixteen. Top surgery involves the removal of healthy breast tissue in children that are female but identify as male.
    Trans activists argue that transitioning is better for a child than therapy.
    There is no evidence to support the contention that transgender children are less prone to suicide if they transition, in fact, there is little longitudinal research about transgender children because the practice of transitioning gender confused children is relatively new.
    Though it might seem like this is about the best way to help children with gender identity issues, it goes deeper.
    What this is really about the cause of gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia, what I call “gender confusion.”
    Equality Utah and trans activists want to convince us that gender confusion is biological. That our brains are either male, female, or somewhere in-between. They believe that a male body can inhabit a female body and vice versa. They believe that gender confusion is not a disorder, but a normal biological variation in which there is a mismatch between body and brain.
    Fundamentally, they believe the brain is right and the body is wrong.
    What they lack is scientific evidence to support this claim.
    In fact, the causes of gender confusion are varied.
    Gender confusion can result when a child is sexually abused. Gender confusion can result when a child misunderstands traditional gender roles. Gender confusion can result when a child is encouraged by friends, family, or other children to embrace the stereotypes of the opposite gender. There is even growing concern that autistic children are more likely to be gender confused.
    If we accept that gender confusion is normal, and that children who are gender confused should be transitioned, we will deny children access to critical mental health services. We will encourage children to internalize the causes of their gender confusion rather than help them resolve or manage their gender confusion.
    A few activists have argued that brain scans show that there are brain differences in transgender adults that support their claim that gender identity is biological.
    Even if I grant that there could be individuals who are biologically predisposed to be transgender, it is in a child’s best interest to get therapy rather than transition.
    Children can learn healthy ways to manage gender dysphoria so that there is no need to transition.
    Equality Utah and other trans activists have provided no evidence that their legislation would prevent even one child’s suicide. There is a case to be made that it might increase the number of suicides.
    As a child, I had gender identity disorder, what is now called gender dysphoria. If I had been encouraged to transition, the root cause of my dysphoria would have been buried. Rather than helping me, transitioning would have harmed me.
    As mental health care professionals know, when something traumatic or troubling is internalized, it creates cognitive dissonance which results in anxiety, depression, self-harm and sometimes suicide.
    I have heard young, gender confused males referring to their penis as a “birth defect” that will be removed when they turn eighteen.
    If we encourage children to view their healthy body as defective, we are likely to increase these children’s’ mental health issues.
    Despite the claims of trans activists, it isn’t hard to change a child’s perception of their gender identity.
    Children have not fully developed an identity, and every experience and interaction they have gradually builds their identity.
    If a child is gender confused, there are proven therapeutic techniques that can help a child to repair the disconnect between their body and their brain as well as ways to help reframe how they conceptualize their identity so that they do not view their body as wrong.
    Those who support Equality Utah’s legislation are accepting that it is biologically normal for a male brain to be born into a female body, or a female brain to be born into a male body, or that a brain can be both male and female. With no data to back up their claim, they argue that the only way to help a child whose brain does not match their body is to transition them. They add to the emotional appeal of their claim by saying that gender confused children who are not allowed to transition will likely kill themselves. Anyone who opposes Equality Utah’s legislation is responsible for the suicide of trans individuals.
    It is a compelling argument, but it is also profoundly flawed.
    If enacted, Equality Utah’s legislation is actually likely to increase anxiety, depression, and ultimately suicide because children with treatable mental health issues will be denied appropriate therapy and instead, transitioned to live as the opposite gender. Rather than affirming them as healthy individuals, this practice will affirm their mis-belief that were born in the wrong body. Equality Utah’s legislation will result in children who believe their healthy body is wrong, rather than help children who have mental health needs.