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Utah Is Latest State To Ban LGBTQ 'Conversion Therapy'


This week, Utah became the 19th state and one of the most conservative to bans so-called conversion therapy. This is a widely discredited practice that aims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. From member station KUER, Nicole Nixon reports.

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: It all started last year, when two Utah Republicans ran a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors. But the proposal was gutted by more socially conservative lawmakers and abandoned. A few months later, Republican Governor Gary Herbert pushed the ban through a different avenue, a licensing rule for therapists. And now it's taking effect.

TROY WILLIAMS: Today, the governor of Utah sent a message to LGBTQ youth that we see you, we value you, we love you. You belong in Utah.

NIXON: That's Troy Williams with the group Equality Utah at a press conference yesterday. The new rule means mental health professionals could lose their state license if they practice conversion therapy on minors, though it's still allowed for adults. Williams says this isn't the first victory for LGBT people in Utah. In recent years, the state has updated its hate crimes and nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

WILLIAMS: Utahans are a kind, compassionate people. And when they see people suffering, they want to move in and alleviate that.

NIXON: Williams credits conversion therapy survivors, like Nathan Dalley, for sharing their stories. Dalley out as gay when he was 15. The next year, he found himself struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. He started going to therapy, not realizing at the time that it was conversion therapy.

NATHAN DALLEY: It was a lot of messaging of, like, the way you are right now is problematic, and people will not like you or accept you the way you are, which as a 16-year-old, that's like the last thing you need to hear from adults.

NIXON: Dalley's therapist discouraged him from wearing form-fitting clothes. He was told to wear a rubber band around his wrist and snap it against his skin whenever he had thoughts about other boys. It left a scar. After seven months in the program, Dalley attempted suicide.

DALLEY: It thankfully didn't work. Many youths are not as fortunate.

NIXON: LGBT kids are already more likely than their peers to attempt suicide. And studies show that rate doubles or triples when parents, therapists or religious leaders try to change an adolescent's sexual orientation. Dalley was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the governor acted to ban conversion therapy.

DALLEY: It's hard to deal with. It's hard to address. It's hard to talk about. And it's hard to heal from.

NIXON: Troy Williams with Equality Utah credits several Republican lawmakers for listening to LGBT people and tackling their issues.

WILLIAMS: We sit down with conservative lawmakers, we sit down with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and other conservative faiths as well, and we introduce our lives and our families to them.

NIXON: The influential LDS Church opposes conversion therapy but also opposed early drafts of the rule because leaders didn't believe it included enough religious or parental protections. But the church supports the new rule. In a statement, the church's lobbyist called it, quote, "a good solution which will work for all concerned."

For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nicole Nixon