Utah Governor Signs Conversion Therapy Ban Into Law

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill into law Wednesday that bars licensed professionals in the state from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, designed to turn LGBTQ+ people straight and/or cisgender.

In 2020, the state’s Division of Professional Licensing imposed rules against subjecting minors to the discredited practice, which has been denounced as unnecessary, ineffective, and harmful by major medical and mental health organizations. The law will make the ban on the practice stronger. Violation would be considered unprofessional conduct, which would come with a punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $25,000. Both chambers of the legislature had approved the measure unanimously.

There are some exceptions. Someone who is “both a health care professional and a religious advisor” and “acting substantially in the capacity of a religious advisor and not in the capacity of a health care professional” is not subject to the ban, according to the bill. Neither are health care professionals who are also the parents or grandparents of their client.

Utah is one of 21 states that protect young people from conversion therapy, as do many cities and counties, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Cox, a Republican, has proven more sympathetic to LGBTQ+ youth than some members of his party. He vetoed a transgender-exclusionary school sports bill last year, but the legislature overrode his veto. He did, however, sign a bill this year that bans most gender-affirming care for trans youth.

LGBTQ+ organizations praised the conversion therapy ban. “Utah has shown again that LGBTQ advocates and political conservatives can work together to protect families from proven harm,” said a statement from Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and cofounder of Born Perfect, a survivor-led campaign against conversion therapy started by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Conversion therapy tore my own family apart when conversion therapists — as they so often do — taught me to blame my parents for my orientation. Utah’s law protecting LGBTQ youth recognizes that LGBTQ youth and their families are part of every community. We believe every child is born perfect.”

“Utah’s leadership as the most conservative state to address this issue shows how rapidly attitudes toward LGBTQ youth are changing,” added NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “People from all walks of life recognize that public officials have a responsibility to protect vulnerable youth from this life-threatening harm. We are grateful to Equality Utah for their unwavering commitment to this issue, and to Utah lawmakers for their leadership.”

“This is an encouraging step forward in the fight to protect LGBTQ youth across the nation from the dangerous and discredited practices of so-called conversion ‘therapy.’ These harmful practices, which are associated with poor mental health outcomes and increased suicide risk, have been denounced by every major professional health and medical organization in the country,” Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. “We implore the leaders of Utah to follow the guidance of medical experts in all of their law-making efforts and reevaluate previous legislation barring access to medically necessary, age-appropriate care for transgender young people. All LGBTQ Utahns deserve to be shielded from harmful practices like so-called conversion ‘therapy’ while having greater access to care that is affirming and supportive.”