Utah’s governor is regulating conversion therapy and that may help ban it in the state

Posted at 4:48 PM, Jun 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-28 18:48:49-04

Utah’s legislature couldn’t agree on banning conversion therapy for minors. So the governor is giving the state’s Psychologist Licensing Board a shot and they may ban it entirely.

Conversion therapy is an attempt to forcibly change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It does not work, and studies show that those subjected to it or who choose to undergo it are put at a greater risk of depression or suicide.

Earlier this year, a bill banning conversion therapy for minors, sponsored by two Republican legislators, stalled in the state’s legislature. So now, Gov. Gary Herbert is directing the Psychologist Licensing Board to draft rules to regulate conversion therapy in the state.

“We’re going to turn this to the licensing people,” said Herbert, a Republican, in his monthly news conference Thursday. “They’ll use the best available science. They’ll have the opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t work. What should be done. What shouldn’t be done.”

Herbert wrote in the letter to the board that he was particularly troubled about “interventions using physical distress” and “the lack of understanding many parents have concerning so-called ‘conversion therapy.'” As he’s not a psychologist, he says, he wants the experts to weigh in.

The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paul Edwards, told CNN in a statement the governor hopes that by going through this administrative process, “it will produce greater light with less heat,” and that the process can inform any future legislation should additional legislation be needed.

“Governor Herbert appreciates that professional psychologists are in a superior position to evaluate the scientific and clinical evidence concerning psychological interventions than are elected officials,” Edwards said. “He trusts this process will ensure that LGBTQ+ youth and children are never subjected to physically or mentally abusive practices at the hands of a licensed therapist.”

The board declined to comment for this article and its outgoing chair, David Dodgion, did not respond to a request for comment.

CNN listened to an audio recording of its Thursday board meeting and in it, the board agreed that it would draft its rules to apply to adults and minors — which the governor’s office approved of during the meeting. The board also said it would try to make the rules as “broad” and “comprehensive” as possible.

Equality Utah, the state’s LGBTQ rights organization, said it sees the governor’s directive as a positive step for the cause.

“Placing the burden in the hands of actual psychologists allows science, and not homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, to prevail,” Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said.

Science is clear that conversion therapy doesn’t work

Science has been weighing in on conversion therapy for decades.

The American Psychiatric Association says it hasopposed conversion therapy since 1998. The Association is responsible for, and publishes, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authoritative handbook that mental health professionals use to diagnose disorders in the United States and across the world.

It also encourages legislation that prohibits conversion therapies.

The American Psychological Association, too, told CNN there’s “insufficient evidence” psychological interventions can change a person’s sexual orientation.

“Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation,” American Psychological Association spokeswoman Kim Mills said. “But rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome.”

Utah’s Psychologist Licensing Board discussed this research and said it would directly impact its drafting, according to the audio recording of the board’s Thursday meeting.

However, in its Thursday meeting, the board was unclear about how broadly any rule it makes could be applied, given that conversion therapy may happen in a variety of different settings, such as in churches or camps.

The Human Rights Campaign says 16 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have banned conversion therapy for young people.