The conversion therapy bill


Nathan is one among many who shared their conversion therapy story with Equality Utah

Cameron Bessette, Reporter

Conversion or reparative therapy is a treatment that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is considered a pseudoscientific practice. A pseudoscience is a practice that claims to be scientific and factual but lacks support from most scientists.

Conversion therapy uses a variety of behavioral, cognitive and psychoanalytic tactics to try and accomplish its goal. According to a 2009 report made by the American Psychology Association (APA),  some of the techniques used by conversion therapists to try to change sexual orientation and gender identity include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis; electric shock therapy, using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions, orgasmic reconditioning and satiation therapy.

A different route which is focused more on behavior and cognition try to make patient’s behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills and hypnosis.

On top of all of these controversial and potentially traumatic tactics, there is no scientific evidence that proves conversion therapy even works. In 2009, the APA conducted a comprehensive review of the evidence used to support the therapy and concluded that they are not supported by any reliable evidence. The Pan American Health Organization has stated that conversion therapy practices “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”
Because of its controversial methods and inconsistent results, conversion therapy has been condemned and dismissed by mainstream scientists. The American Psychology Association released a statement advising “parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality.”

Despite the overwhelming number of studies and statements that condemn these practices it is still legal to privately practice conversion therapy in all 50 states. Currently, there is a movement of legislators and LGBTQ activists to at least prevent minors from engaging in conversion therapy.

At present, 15 states and Washington DC have successfully passed such laws. On February 21st, Utah state senator Daniel McCray and representative Craig Hall introduced a bill, now known as H.B.399 or the “Prohibition of the Practice of Conversion Therapy Upon Minors” Act, which made Utah the 37th state to introduce such legislation.

Passing such a prohibition this session was a priority for Equality Utah as a way of combating the state’s suicide rates, which are the fifth highest in the nation. Such a statistic, while reflecting terribly on the state of Utah, is widely considered to be attributed to widespread persecution of LGBTQ individuals (particularly youth) in the state. Throughout the remainder of February and the beginnings of March, the bill was debated in a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The bill that eventually emerged from that committee was dramatically altered from the original bill. Originally the bill simply banned the conversion therapy from being practiced on minors. The committee removed that all-out ban.

Instead, only physically abusive practices were removed and the term ‘gender identity’ was stripped out of the bill entirely, a dramatic change considering that a major focus of conversion therapy is to change a person’s gender identity from what they perceive it to be. Rep. Hall said the bill was changed so much that he could not support it anymore.

The fallout from the changes prompted Troy Williams, the director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah, and Taryn Hiatt of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to quit Governor Gary Herbert’s youth suicide task force saying that the governor’s endorsement of the changes amounted to turning his back on LGBTQ children.

The bill was struck down and will not be heard in Utah state legislature this session. However, H.B.399’s sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall is optimistic that the bill has at least opened discussion, he said  “We knew that this would be a little bit of an uphill battle, of course, and sometimes bills pass and sometimes they don’t. We look forward to continuing to discussing this issue over the summer and hope that we can one day find some good language that everyone can agree on.”