Bill banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth faces opposition in the House

Nathan Dalley, center, receives a hug after speaking in support of HB399 during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol Thursday, Feb. 21, in Salt Lake City. Those who have been through conversion therapy, like 19-year-old Dalley, say it leaves them depressed and can lead to suicide attempts. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

LGTBQ activists are seeking to combat Utah’s high suicide rates, the fifth highest in the nation, with new legislation. HB399 would ban the practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors, a practice linked with depression and suicide, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health.

HB399 has received widespread support from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Equality Utah, Encircle and the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Director of Government Relations Marty Stephens publicly announced during the bill’s introduction in February the Church would not oppose the bill. 

However, amid heated debate, lawmakers introduced two substitute bills on Feb. 28 and March 1 which could change the language and terms banning conversion therapy — changes proponents of the bill fear could cause The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other groups to withdraw their support. 

HB399 would prohibit health care professionals from providing conversion therapy to minors and adds a violation of the prohibition to a list of conduct that constitutes unprofessional conduct for licensing purposes in Utah.

Conversion therapy covers a range of practices including electric-shock therapy, prescriptions to alter sexual orientation and therapy that connects past trauma with sexual orientation.

Similar bills have already been passed into law in 15 other states, including California and Nevada.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, said he believes HB399 would protect Utah LGBTQ youth from mental health issues raised by conversion therapy.

“I’m proud to sponsor legislation that protects children from the harmful and discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy,” Hall said. “This legislation establishes regulatory standards and will have a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ youth.”

Conversion therapy is defined in the bill’s text as any practice or treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient. This includes mental health therapy aiming to change, eliminate or reduce behaviors and feelings related to a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The definition of conversion therapy would not ban treatments that are neutral to sexual orientation and gender identity or that provide assistance to those undergoing gender transition and provide support facilitating a patient’s ability to cope.

Treatment providers would still be allowed to address “unlawful, unsafe, premarital, or extramarital sexual activities in a manner that is neutral with respect to sexual orientation; or discusses with a patient or client the patient or client’s moral or religious beliefs and practices,” according to the bill’s text.

HB399 received criticism from a number of legislators who found the bill’s definition of conversion therapy overly restrictive in limiting what therapists are allowed to say during therapy.

Several house members have introduced substitute which would change the language of HB399. 

Rep. Brady Brammer’s, R-Pleasant Grove, substitute submitted Feb. 28 would replace much of the bill’s current language with a prohibition on shock therapy and and other practices causing “physical discomfort.”

Another substitute submitted by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, March 1 would remove wording that bans efforts to change sexual and gender oriented behavior and expression while banning health professionals from promising to help patients change gender identity and sexual orientation.

HB399 is currently being held in the House Judiciary Committee, where it must pass vote before it is passes to the Senate Floor. 

With only 9 days remaining of the Utah 2019 Legislative Session, lawmakers and LGBTQ activists may have to wait for the 2020 session to arrive consensus that will better protect the lives of minority LGBTQ youth in Utah. 

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