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Utah bans conversion therapy for minors

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, veto transgender sports ban
Utah Gov. Spencer CoxPhoto: KSTU screenshot

On Wednesday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed a bill banning so-called LGBTQ+ “conversion therapy” for minors.

Utah’s H.B. 228 was first introduced in January by Republican state Rep. Michael J. Petersen. The state’s House of Representatives and Senate both approved the legislation, marking the first time both chambers of a state legislature have voted unanimously in favor of a “conversion therapy” ban, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). Utah now joins 19 other states as well as the District of Columbia that have passed similar laws banning the harmful anti-LGBTQ+ practice.

Under the new law, licensed healthcare providers are prohibited from subjecting minors to “conversion therapy.” Those that do can be charged with unprofessional conduct, which in Utah is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.

But, as The Hill reported in February, the law does include exceptions for those who are “both a health care professional and a religious advisor” and are “acting substantially in the capacity of a religious advisor and not in the capacity of a health care professional,” as well as for parents or grandparents who are also licensed health care providers.

On Wednesday, the NCLR’s released a statement cheering the new law. “Utah has shown again that LGBTQ advocates and political conservatives can work together to protect families from proven harm,” said conversion therapy survivor and cofounder of NCLR’s Born Perfect campaign Mathew Shurka. “Conversion therapy tore my own family apart when conversion therapists — as they so often do — taught me to blame my parents for my orientation. Utah’s law protecting LGBTQ youth recognizes that LGBTQ youth and their families are part of every community. We believe every child is born perfect.”

“Utah’s leadership as the most conservative state to address this issue shows how rapidly attitudes toward LGBTQ youth are changing,” said NCLR legal director Shannon Minter. “People from all walks of life recognize that public officials have a responsibility to protect vulnerable youth from this life-threatening harm. We are grateful to Equality Utah for their unwavering commitment to this issue, and to Utah lawmakers for their leadership.”

In a separate statement, the Trevor Project’s director of state advocacy campaigns Troy Stevenson said that Utah’s new law is an encouraging step toward protecting LGBTQ+ youth.

“These harmful practices, which are associated with poor mental health outcomes and increased suicide risk, have been denounced by every major professional health and medical organization in the country,” Stevenson said.

Major health and mental health organizations oppose conversion therapy, which describes a set of techniques that practitioners promise will turn gay and bi people straight and trans and nonbinary people cis.

Conversion therapy is based on the idea that LGBTQ identity is a problem to be fixed, which can lead to long-term damage to victims’ self-esteem. A 2013 survey showed that 84 percent of former patients of conversion therapy said it inflicted lasting shame and emotional harm, and another study found that LGBTQ people who were forced into conversion therapy had an attempted suicide rate five times above normal.

Last June, President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue rules banning the use of federal funds for programs that offer conversion therapy and to increase public awareness about the harms of the practice.

As The Advocate notes, Cox’s record on LGBTQ+ issues has been mixed. Last year, he vetoed a bill aimed at preventing trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. Utah’s legislature overrode his veto, but a judge later issued an injunction against the ban. In January, Cox signed a bill into law banning gender-affirming care for minors in the state.

“We implore the leaders of Utah to follow the guidance of medical experts in all of their law-making efforts and reevaluate previous legislation barring access to medically necessary, age-appropriate care for transgender young people,” the Trevor Project’s Stevenson said on Wednesday. “All LGBTQ Utahns deserve to be shielded from harmful practices like so-called conversion ‘therapy’ while having greater access to care that is affirming and supportive.”

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