SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A local advocacy group says conversion therapy is having a devastating impact on LGBTQ youth in our state, and they are taking action.
Currently, 14 states ban the controversial practice. Equality Utah is working on a bill that would add Utah to that list if it passes.
As a professional dancer, who has appeared on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, Benji Schwimmer has a flair for entertaining others and loves life.
But, it wasn’t always like that. When he was younger he struggled with a major conflict.
“I was raised an active, believing member of the LDS church. At a very early age, I knew I was attracted to boys,” said Schwimmer.
That lead to 12 years of conversion and aversion therapy.
He says it started with being told he wasn’t masculine enough, and if he was obedient and worked hard he could be cured. It escalated from there.
“Every time I was feeling aroused for example, and this was later on in the process of conversion therapy, I was supposed to drink ipecac syrup, which would induce vomiting. And so, the aversion therapy was that I would get sick to my stomach every time I would get some inclination.”
He says the therapy lead to a vicious cycle of confusion and a very dark road.
“I just wanted to disappear. I had two options. I had to continue in this hell, or I needed to jump.”
In Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for our youth. Troy Williams, with Equality Utah, says conversion therapy plays a big role in that.
“We know folks that go through conversion therapy are three-times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT kids who don’t. So, this is an issue that is critical for us,” said Williams.
That’s why Equality Utah is pushing for the Ethical Therapy Act for Minors. The bill would regulate state-licensed therapists and would ban conversion therapy for those 18 years and younger.
“For one specific objective, and that’s we want to save lives,” said Williams.
That’s the choice Schwimmer ultimately made. He says he decided to live, to break free and to accept himself for who he is.
“For the first time in my life, I was able to hold hands with another man, tell him I loved him and to hear that he loved me back. That is beauty, that to me is heaven,” Schwimmer said.
The bill is not public at this time. Equality Utah is working on some alliances to help get it through the legislature.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not seen the bill but has issued the following statement in the past.
“The Church denounces any therapy that subjects an individual to abusive practices. We hope those who experience same-sex attraction find compassion and understanding from family members, professional counselors, and church members.”