Utah Becomes 19th State to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ for LGBT Children

(CN) – In a victory for the LGBT community, the state of Utah will ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy for children.

So-called conversion therapy is meant to forcibly “cure” people of their sexual orientation, but starting next year Utah will ban the practice for minors along with any licensed mental health therapists and psychologists who make that promise.

The announcement from Republican Governor Gary Herbert on Tuesday marks a big win for the LGBT community in the state and across the nation. Across the United States, 18 other states have banned conversion therapy.

Sometimes referred to as “pray the gay away” therapy, conversion therapy has no support from mental health professionals. The American Psychological Association says the practice poses significant risk of harm by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change.

In a statement Herbert said, “I have learned much through this process. The stories of youth who have endured these so-called therapies are heart-rending, and I’m grateful that we have found a way forward that will ban conversion therapy forever in our state.”

Earlier this year Herbert signaled his support for a law that would ban conversion therapy. In June he asked the state’s Psychologist Licensing Board to draft rules to regulate the practice, because he was bothered by testimony from residents who shared details about “interventions using physical distress” in the practice.

But this week’s announcement involves a statewide ban and uses language from H.B. 399, which Herbert says has the backing from a wide swath of the public.

Stephanie Larsen with the LGBTQ family and youth resource center Encircle called the new rule “the best way forward” for the local community. “On this Thanksgiving week, I’m grateful that this new rule will protect Utah’s LGBTQ+ children and minors by banning conversion therapy,” Larsen said in a statement.

Even the Mormon Church – which is headquartered in the Beehive State – backs the ban.

“We are opposed to conversion therapy and our therapists do not practice it. However, we are grateful for the clarifications the new rule provides, and we support its adoption,” Marty Stephens, the director of government relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattery-Day Saints, said in a statement.

Troy Williams with the LGBT advocacy group Equality Utah said the state’s actions will no doubt save lives and is thankful to lawmakers and those who shared their stories publicly.

“We also want to thank our courageous survivors who shared their stories repeatedly, often while testifying in public hearings next to conversion therapists. It’s been an emotionally challenging work – and we are proud of them all,” said Williams.

This latest victory for the LGBT community marks a break from Herbert’s previous rhetoric. In 2013, Herbert said he was “disappointed” in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Utah.

The statewide ban on the antiquated practice of conversion therapy will take effect Jan. 22 after a 30-day public comment period starting Dec. 15.

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