State Watch

Utah Senate votes to ban conversion therapy from health care providers

LGBTQ+ pride flag
Getty Images
LGBTQ+ pride flag (Getty Images)

The Utah Senate on Friday unanimously approved legislation to ban certain health care providers from practicing conversion therapy on minors, moving the legislature closer to codifying rules set by the state government in 2020.

Under the bill, introduced in January by Republican state Rep. Michael J. Petersen, licensed health care providers that engage in conversion therapy — a discredited practice aiming to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity — with a minor may be charged with unprofessional conduct, punishable in Utah by up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine.

However, the measure does not apply to an individual who is “both a health care professional and a religious advisor” when that person is “acting substantially in the capacity of a religious advisor and not in the capacity of a health care professional.”

The bill carves out similar exceptions for parents or grandparents who are also licensed health care providers.

During a Utah House hearing this month, Peterson argued that a slate of rules rolled out by the state’s Division of Professional Licensing (DPOL) in 2020 prohibiting conversion therapy for minors is overly broad, and he said his bill addresses concerns raised by both the health care and LGBTQ communities.

“I have spoken with former colleagues who stopped treating minors because of ambiguity in the DOPL rule and fear of reprisal if they were to say something nonaffirming to their minor patients,” Peterson said this month. He added that LGBTQ people in Utah have said they are grateful for the legislation “because they wish their counselors would have been more inquisitive and curious during their therapy sessions.”

But LGBTQ advocates clashed with Peterson and members of the legislature earlier this month over an initial draft of the bill that did not outright prohibit providers from engaging in talk therapy meant to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The measure was later amended to address those concerns and was passed by the state House in a unanimous vote. On Friday, the revised bill passed the Senate on a 27-0 vote. Two Republican state senators, Don Ipson and Jerry Stevenson, were marked absent.

The state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Utah, in a statement on Friday called the vote “an extraordinary moment in Utah’s LGBTQ history.”

The measure now heads to the desk of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) for final approval. Cox said this month his office supports the revised legislation.

In 2019, while serving as Utah’s lieutenant governor, Cox apologized to protesters at the state capitol after a similar measure to ban the practice was gutted by the legislature. A substitution bill would have narrowed the definition of conversion therapy to exclude practices such as talk therapy.

While Cox has been a supporter of LGBTQ rights in the past, in January, he approved legislation to ban gender-affirming health care for minors, making Utah one of four states to enact such a law. Arizona and Tennessee have enacted partial bans.

During an appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” this month, Cox defended his decision, arguing that the new law facilitates a necessary pause in the provision of gender-affirming medical care until more data on the long-term effects of treatments is available.

Tags Spencer Cox

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