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Utahns sit-in at governor’s office for LGBT rights

Posted at 9:57 PM, Mar 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-08 09:10:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of people, disappointed by the outcome of a conversion therapy bill, took to Governor Gary Herbert's office Thursday to make their voices heard.

Sitting on a cold granite floor outside of the Governor’s office, a group of once-strangers came together for LGBT rights.

”We all cross the finish line together and we are all in this battle together and we all want our equal rights together,” said Isaac Reese as he sat in a circle with a dozen others.

The group spoke with Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, in the hopes of having their voices heard.

“We want protection and we want to be able to exist and not have to be someone that we are not,” Reese continued.

The gathering comes on the heels of a failed bill in the state legislature proposing an end to conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that uses verbal and physical methods, in attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“You go into conversion therapy and you know what happens, that shame that you feel about yourself is validated, it validates that you are broken,” said Nathan Dalley, a young man who was put into conversion therapy at just 16 years old.

Emotions ran high as some shared their experiences in conversion therapy.

“It was torture for me,” said Nathan Winterton. Winterton told his story, reflecting on a very physically abusive form of conversion therapy he took part in at age 21 after he returned from the mission he was serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

“I went through this thinking this was the only way for me to be accepted,” Winterton said. “I still, to this day, have PTSD episodes that leave me curled up on the floor.”

“I did eight months in a residential setting when I was 14,” said Maria Olsen-Hiatt, who said her therapy was predominantly verbally abusive. “Also have suffered from PTSD that still affects me in a lot of ways.”

A bill to ban conversion therapy was introduced in this year's legislative session, bringing hope to the group.

“I thought it was going to be hope for Utah to hear the queer community and hear the pains that we go through, because, for me, this still affects me every day,” Winterton said.

But the bill was later changed from its original form to exclude the definition of conversion therapy, exempting only physical forms.

“It was gutted, it looked so hopeful for so long and then last minute they just stopped and they changed it, and it was gone,” said Winterton.

The new language also excluded transgender people.

”For a legislator to not take a stand for trans-youth… it’s very troubling, it’s extremely troubling to me,” said Ermiya Fanaeian who identifies as a transgender woman. “Just because we’re here standing up for trans-youth today, doesn’t mean everyone else does."

The legislative session is nearing the end, meaning the group has no prospects to see a change this time around. 

So instead, the group sat and waited until either the governor or the lieutenant governor came to speak to them.

”He [Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox] whispered specifically to me, ‘I’m sorry’ which I was glad to hear,” said Amelia Damarjain after Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox sat down and listened to their stories.

“This is a step, it opens up dialogue,” Damarjain said. “It’s not the end and I expect more, but it’s a small start.”

Now they hope others will hear their voices too.

“We’re all in this together as a community to make sure that no one has to undergo the dehumanizing and destructive therapies that have existed in this state and continue to exist in this state,” said Gavin Serr.

“I love living in Utah. It’s my place, it’s my community,” said Dalley. “But if you’re part of the queer population, you’re pushed out of it. We need to start doing ‘community’ great for everyone.” 

Damarjain said the lieutenant governor also read them a statement from Governor Herbert, apologizing to the LGBT community. Still, she said actions speak louder than words and they would like to see something done.