UTAH (ABC4) – State lawmakers with the Administrative Rules Review and General Oversight committee revisited Utah’s ban on conversion therapy for kids and whether it’s constitutional.
“Our review so far suggests our legal issues are unsettled,” said Mark Steinkall, Director of Provisional Licensing.
Conversion therapy seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient or client and it’s against Utah law for psychologists to change, eliminate, or reduce behaviors, expressions, attractions, or feelings related to a patient or client’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We believe this is harmful behavior that is done through speech which should be regulated,” said Marina Lowe, policy director for Equality Utah.
Utah lawmakers discussed today where the line is when it comes to talk therapy, whether it is considered protected religious or professional speech or whether it is considered harmful conduct, which is not protected.
“There is no way for a therapist or a lawyer to determine where the line is,” attorney Jeffery Heath said.
“Courts that have looked as this have drawn this line that you know, exploration of treatment options, discussing things with their patients is different than actually engaging in a practice trying to change their sexual orientation or identity,” Lowe said.
One physician said under the law, therapists feel comfortable talking about one’s sexuality when they’re exploring identifying as LGBTQ+, but not if they’re considering identifying as straight or cisgender after identifying as LGBTQ+.
“On the one hand, we might be scaring therapists and on the other, what are we really regulating?” asked therapist Jeff Bennion.
Lawmakers also debated whether it was lawful for former governor Gary Herbert to pass the ban under the Department of Public Licensing back in 2020, when legislation for a bill banning conversion therapy failed.
“Was it appropriate? I would say no,” Sen. Jacob L. Anderegg said.
“It didn’t happen in a vacuum — a lot of people were involved, a lot of organizations were involved,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla.
After over two hours of debating, advocates said they felt hopeful and hurt.
“Talk therapy — truly listening to children and letting them talk about it and then giving them honest opinions, that’s what I’m talking about,” said Gayel Ruzicka, head of Utah Eagle Forum. “That’s what should always be legal.”
“The message that this sends to our LGBTQ youth is harmful and they need to know they are loved and perfect just the way they are and they deserve to be here and I’m tired of seeing legislation and things come about that we have to promote suicide prevention resources after,” said Taryn Hiatt, Area Director for the Utah chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.