A race to 2019 Legislative session: bill to ban conversion therapy in Utah

On Monday, Jan. 14, Equality Utah’s Q Talks Series was held to a sold-out crowd at the Salt Lake City Public Library. The theme was Conversion Therapy Stories, and the special guest biographers included Garrard Conley, author of Boy Erased; Benji Schwimmer, a native Utahn who grew up LDS, as well as an award-winning dancer; and singer-songwriter Justin Utley.

The event was part of a ramp-up by Equality Utah as it pushes a ban on conversion therapy bill in the 2019 Utah Legislative Session. The proposed bill aims at only LGBT minors up to 18 years of age — the most extensive group subjected to the practice, skipping adults or those with unlicensed religious counselors.

While in its infancy, Clifford Rosky, a law professor at the University of Utah, is helping to write the legislation.

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

While the American Psychiatric Association says it’s impossible to change a person’s sexual orientation, and unethical to try, a 2018 study from the Family Acceptance Project shows that when parents take their child to a therapist or a religious leader for conversion therapy, youth depression rates can double and suicide rates can triple, passing the proposed legislation may be an exercise in futility.

Those who have experienced it describe everything from electroshock therapy to efforts to try to make men appear more masculine and women more feminine. Many say they were referred to the controversial therapy programs by local church leaders.

Schwimmer said that he experienced a number of different approaches to try to change his sexual orientation during his 12 years in conversion, reparative and aversion therapy, saying “therapists would try to “realign my masculinity.”

“They would induce vomiting by forcing me to drink ipecac syrup every time I would feel arousal or stimulation,” he said. “This was supposed to scar the brain to think that men were unattractive. In my case, not only did it not work, it made things very unhappy for me.”

EU is currently gathering people’s stories and meeting with lawmakers and the governor’s office in an effort to build support for the bill.

And LGBT Utahns and allies may also build support for EU’s efforts at the annual PAC Brunch, to be held Feb. 9 at Red Butte Garden.

Funds raised at this event go toward recruiting, endorsing and funding equality candidates. Last year, Equality Utah PAC registered 8,000 new voters, made 34,000 phone calls, endorsed 24 candidates and provided them with $27,000 in critical campaign funds.

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