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Conversion therapy bill goes from opening door to the practice to banning it, with clarification

In an August interim session of the Utah State Legislature, it became apparent that several LGBTQ issues would be brought to the 2023 Utah Legislative Session, including reversing the ban on so-called conversion therapy.

Legislators were still stinging that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration banned conversion therapy through a Division of Professional Licensing rule in 2020. The rule was nearly exactly that of a failed 2019 bill.

Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, brought the issue to the interim session out of “concern” about how the rule came to exist. He even went as far as to say that there was no need for a ban on the practice.

“There are past medical procedures that have been disfavored, and they drop out naturally,” Brammer said in the committee hearing on the proposal. He mentioned bloodletting, a practice that ended in the 1800s, as a procedure no longer used but never outlawed in the state. “Why do we treat this differently?”

The committee passed the proposal favorably, and House Bill 228 was drafted by North Logan Republican Rep. Mike Petersen. It would ban such practices as electroshock and vomit-inducing therapies but would allow “talk therapy.”

“Imagine a 13-year-old girl. She’s experiencing body changes. She’s got all kinds of social pressures. She’s feeling confused and unsure about her gender. She wants to have an open and honest conversation, but she can’t because her therapist knows that by rule, they’re prohibited from doing anything but affirming the young girl’s idea she may be a boy,” Petersen testified.

Petersen said that the 2020 administrative rule governing conversion therapy was so restrictive it was hindering mental health professionals.

“Under the current rule, we’ve been talking with many counselors who have either restricted their practice or they no longer want to deal with minor patients. Here we are at a time in our state’s history where we are concerned about the problems kids are going through and this is the time we need to make sure that they feel free to talk,” Petersen added.

Equality Utah leaders saw the bill as opening the door to reintroducing conversion therapy. They began negotiating with Petersen and came to a compromise. The group endorsed Petersen’s substitute bill and thanked him for being willing to find a compromise.

“We’ve had important dialogue and have shared our concerns openly,” the organization said in a statement. “The 2nd sub continues to prohibit the very dangerous practice of conversion therapy for minors while providing greater clarification for Utah therapists, and accordingly, we support the advancement of HB228 as amended.”

The updated legislation focused solely on minors and allowed mental health professionals to provide care in a “neutral” way to assist a client seeking information about sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill went on to pass unanimously in both houses and was signed by the governor.

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