Utah has moved closer to strengthening its ban on conversion therapy for minors.
In 2020, the state’s Division of Professional Licensing imposed rules against subjecting minors to the discredited practice, designed to turn LGBTQ+ people straight or cisgender. Now legislators are writing the ban into law.
The Utah Senate Friday voted to do that by unanimously approving House Bill 228, which had already been approved unanimously by the House of Representatives. It now goes to Gov. Spencer Cox for his signature, and he has said he supports the measure. It’s the first such ban to pass both chambers of a legislature unanimously, Equality Utah notes, and it did so in a largely conservative state.
Republican Rep. Michael Petersen introduced the bill in January, saying the rules set by licensing regulators needed to be clarified, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reports. They made therapists wary of asking probing questions of their clients, he said. However, LGBTQ+ activists objected to an early version of the legislation, as it did not include an outright ban. It said that “verbal or written communication by itself does not fall within the definition of conversion therapy.”
After negotiations, the bill now makes clear that licensed therapists may not engage in conversion therapy. 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.
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.
“This is politics at its very best. When stakeholders from all sides can come together, listen to each other, learn from each other, and discover common ground,” Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams told TV station KSTU Friday. “We hope in the future, lawmakers will continue that pattern that model of bringing stakeholders together and finding best policy.”
Mike Ostermiller, a longtime Utah lobbyist, was among those who testified in favor of the bill. He’s the father of a queer daughter, and he noted this was the first time he testified for himself and not on behalf of a client, the Deseret News reports.
“While reaffirming the fact that conversion therapy is illegal in the state of Utah, we are protecting our kids. and more than that, most importantly, the legislature is sending a message to LGBTQ kids throughout the state of Utah that they are not broken,” he said. “That they are seen. That they’re understood. And that they do not need to be repaired, fixed, converted, or restored in any way.”
Cox, a Republican, has been more supportive of LGBTQ+ rights than most members of his party. He vetoed a bill last year that would have barred transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports. But this year he did sign legislation banning most gender-affirming care for trans youth.
He committed to signing the conversion therapy ban. “We’re very pleased with the outcome on HB 228,” he said in a prepared statement, according to the Deseret News. “The unanimous vote shows a commitment by the various parties to find common ground and we look forward to signing the bill.”
Utah is one of 21 states that protect youth from conversion therapy. The District of Columbia and many cities and counties do so as well.