SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Applause filled the Hall of Governors at the Utah State Capitol Thursday as legislation to ban the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy for minors was unveiled.
“We are raising the consciousness of this state on what we can do to help prevent suicide,” said Troy Williams, Executive Director of Equality Utah.
Youth that undergo efforts by a licensed therapist to change their sexual orientation are two times more likely to experience depression and nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide, according to the Williams Institute. Approximately 680,000 Americans have undergone conversion therapy, 350,000 of those as minors, the Institute also said.
The practice is currently banned in 15 states. Suicide is currently the leading cause of death among kids ages 10-17 in Utah.
Thursday, Utahns who have experienced conversion therapy as minors said the practice severely damaged their mental well-being.
“I hated the fact that I’m gay more than anything about myself,” said Nathan Dalley, 19. “I was told that I could overcome my same-sex attraction if I became more muscular…more masculine…”
Arturo Fuentes, 34, said he went through a series of therapy treatments that focused on blaming family members, particularly parents for his same-sex orientation.
“The ‘he is gay’ label wasn’t nearly as painful as the ‘he can change’ label,” said Fuentes, who came out to his parents at age 28, after secretly undergoing conversion therapy at the recommendation of his ecclesiastical leader.
The bill to ban conversion therapy in Utah would be enforced only for state-licensed therapists and medical professionals, not clergy. Still, Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley City) said the legislation should send a strong message to ecclesiastical leaders that science has proven conversion therapy to be ineffective and dangerous to young people.
“This bill will have a positive impact on the mental well-being of LGBTQ youth around our state,” said Hall.
Sen. Dan McCay (R-Riverton) also sponsored the bill, and got emotional talking about its potential impact of making Utah the 16th state to ban conversion therapy for minors.
“This is what Utah does when Utah is at its best,” said McCay. “This is the Utah we want…this is the Utah we are all going to fight for the rest of our time so that we deliver a place to you where you are welcome,” he said, speaking to youth of all races, creeds and sexual orientations in the state.
National teen suicide prevention groups like The Trevor Project praised the bill Thursday.
“We at The Trevor Project are grateful for the tremendous leadership shown by Senator McCay, Representative Hall, and the countless local LGBTQ advocates who have worked together to introduce strong protections from conversion therapy for Utah’s youth,” said Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. “The introduction of this bill is a great accomplishment, and sends a powerful message that people in every state and political party can find common ground around protecting LGBTQ youth from this dangerous and discredited practice. The Trevor Project hears from Utahns in crisis every day. This legislation will save lives, and The Trevor Project is committed to seeing it pass.”
One of the most prominent voices surrounding the bill is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which denounced conversion therapy Wednesday, adding that it does not condone or support therapies that claim to be able to change one’s sexual orientation. Still, the Church does not support same-sex marriage. LGBTQ members of the Church must remain celibate and not act on their same-sex attractions in order to remain in good standing with the faith.
Equality Utah thanked the LDS Church for its support of the legislation.