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House committee advances conversion therapy bill after deal struck

Posted at 12:11 PM, Feb 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-07 00:10:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY — In a unanimous vote, a House committee passed a bill advancing a conversion therapy ban in Utah.

The vote by the House Business, Economic Development & Labor Committee on Monday came hours after a deal was struck on the legislation that originally sought to unwind some of Utah's ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy.

The deal revolved around a language change in House Bill 228, but FOX 13 News confirmed it will preserve the existing ban on conversion therapy for minors. Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice of attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2020, Utah banned LGBTQ conversion therapy in an administrative rule after efforts to pass a law through the legislature failed. It was the result of a deal at the time between the governor's office, LGBTQ rights groups and even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But last year, FOX 13 News reported that lawmakers signaled they would be revisiting the ban, raising concerns among Utah's LGBTQ community members.

Rep. Mike Petersen, R-Logan, announced the agreement ahead of the hearing on his bill.

"I am happy to sponsor this important legislation which provides clarity for professionals while continuing to protect Utah’s LGBTQ+ youth," he said in a statement. “As a former counselor, the current DOPL rule has been particularly concerning to me. 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 non-affirming to their minor patients. I have also spoken with members of the LGBTQ+ community who are grateful for the changes in HB228 because they wish their counselors would have been more inquisitive and curious during their therapy sessions."

READ: Real-time updates on 2023 Utah State Legislature

“We all needed to step up and figure out a way to make sure that healthcare professionals, trained licensed healthcare professionals, could do what they were trained to do and respond to the unique needs of their minor clients," Peterson added. "All of their minor clients.”

Because of changes made to the bill to preserve the original ban, Equality Utah confirmed to FOX 13 News it would support the legislation. If it passes the entire legislature, the ban would be enshrined into law instead of through an administrative rule.

"We’ve had important dialogue and have shared our concerns openly, and for that we are grateful," Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said in a statement. "The second substitute continues to prohibit the very dangerous practice of conversion therapy for minors, while providing greater clarification for Utah therapists, and accordingly, we support the advancement of HB228 as amended."

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he had been briefed on the agreement and was supportive of it.

Governor Spencer Cox was apparently involved in some of the discussions around the bill and supported the compromise.

"We appreciate Equality Utah and legislative sponsors working together to find common ground. We’ve encouraged these discussions and support this version of the bill," his office said in a statement.

Utah has seen multiple bills related to LGBTQ+ youth this legislative session, but this bill is one of the few that has support from groups that normally don't come together on these issues.

“How many committee hearings have you been in, in any of your legislative service, where you’ve seen Equality Utah and the Eagle Forum both support a bill?" said Rep. Brady Brammer.