Utah considers ban on gay conversion therapy for minors

Sep 27, 2019, 6:28 AM
Connell O'Donovan talks with Preston Hilburn before a press conference to announce a new bill calle...
Connell O'Donovan talks with Preston Hilburn before a press conference to announce a new bill called Prohibition of the Practice of Conversion Therapy Upon Minors at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Justin Utley spent two years in gay conversion therapy that included retreats where he was instructed to hold another man so he could become sexually aroused to be with a woman.

He said the therapy didn’t change his sexual orientation and instead brought shame and depression that led to a suicide attempt more than a decade ago.

His therapists tried to persuade him that he must have been sexually abused as a child to make him gay, something Utley said never happened.

Utley, now 42, was among the LGBTQ speakers Thursday who urged Utah state officials at a public hearing to adopt a proposal prohibiting Utah psychologists from engaging in conversion therapy with minors.

“Week after week, I was stripped of my identity and my dignity and taught by my licensed therapist that the word gay was a verb, and not a noun, and that I would only be gay if I acted gay,” said Utley, a musician who lives in Salt Lake City. “The evidence is clear that conversion therapy, no matter what the rebranding or marketing tactics are, is ineffective, dangerous, shame based, and increases suicidal risk.”

Eighteen states have enacted laws banning or restricting the conversion therapy that’s opposed by the American Psychological Association.

Opponents of the Utah proposal who spoke during the hearing said it should be tabled because it will prevent parents from getting help for their children with “unwanted” homosexual feelings or even from talking about sexuality.

Stephen Graham said conversion therapy allowed his son to “overcome” his attraction to men and be happily married to a woman. Graham said traditional morals and values are being “flushed down the toilet” in an “over-sexed world that celebrates homosexuality like the newest fad.”

“Who do these gay activists think they are going around conniving to make it illegal to act according to the dictates of one’s own conscious in their own person lives by seeking out counseling that supports their world view,” Graham asked.

Most of the opponents came from conservative-based groups. Graham is president of Standard of Liberty, which calls itself a foundation aimed at raising awareness of radical sexual movements.

In June, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert called on state regulators to craft rules after a bill died in the Legislature.

Under the new proposal, psychologists who attempt to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity could lose their license or face other penalties.

The proposed changes have support from several religious groups and health care organizations.

Dr. Mark Foote, a psychologist and Intermountain Healthcare’s director of behavioral health, said the company supports the ban on conversion therapy that he said is harmful, ineffective and unprofessional.

Speakers at the hearing were evenly split between supporters and opponents, but state officials said about 85% of the 1,300 written comments from the public have come from people who support banning conversion therapy.

Troy Williams, director the state’s largest gay rights group, Equality Utah, said passage of the ban would send a powerful message to LGBTQ youth in the state that they are loved and belong.

“This act alone will save lives,” Williams said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

When the Legislature was considering a similar proposal, the church said it would not stand in the way of gay conversion therapy for minors.

The faith opposes gay marriage and believes homosexual relations are a sin.

Merrilee Boyack of Family Watch International said the proposal would have a chilling effect on parents and youth who want to explore the therapy.

“This rule removes choice for teens and children and their parents and families,” Boyack said.

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Utah considers ban on gay conversion therapy for minors