For many in the LGBTQ community and its allies, this was likely a frustrating week in the path to banning conversion therapy in Utah.
After a bill was proposed in the 2019 Legislature, and killed after changes rendered it ineffective, the governor encouraged leaders to continue to pursue this ban — as it is now widely well-known that conversation therapy is extremely harmful to both youth and adults. Earlier this year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement saying it would not oppose a proposal.
Flash forward to this week; the church issued a lengthy statement opposing the latest proposed rule, which seems contrary to the stance earlier in the year.
Historically, institutions and organizations the church has operated and overseen have conducted conversion therapy. Many now-adults have spoken about the dangers and life-threatening harm they’ve grappled with due to this abusive kind of “therapy” driven by faith beliefs.
This statement, as with many of its political interjections in Utah over the years, can effectively quash political policies in their place.
But, Utah cannot let its work on eliminating conversion therapy in this state — driven by significant portions of the population — wither away like so many other voter-driven concerns.
Parents, while perhaps well-meaning in their hearts, are likely not mental health professionals. Parents should not be able to “guide their children” into situations that are proved to be catastrophic to emotional and mental health and determined unethical.
The opposition now put forth seeks loopholes in being able to continue practice of conversion therapy not in its name, as it has stated it opposes, but in action to allow its family services therapists to “council youth in ‘self-determined goals’” that include reducing “the intensity of sexual desires by prioritizing other aspects of his identity.”
The comments filed overwhelmingly point to the church’s belief that there is a cultural lack of understanding toward gender dysphoria — which is not inaccurate — and claims that it could be caused by verbal bullying by peers, social conformity or that transgendered young people are “transitioning to the opposite sex as a form of gay conversion therapy.”
Through regularly inconsistent statements made by various leadership, it is unclear if church leaders know what to think or how to approach the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBTQ youth, in relation to inclusivity in its membership. Statements made this year, and many times in the past, are put at odds and have created harmful emotional and mental consequences for thousands of youth.
At times it seems the church’s focus is on impressing its faith beliefs, regardless of whether or not it is healthy and constructive for a child, rather than focusing on an apparent decrease in mental well-being directly associated with those actions.
Look at Utah’s overt struggles with its LGBTQ youth and suicide. It is not a coincidence.
We wholly agree with the church’s filed comments that “responsible therapists need flexibility to deal with a wide range of possibilities and needs, not premature standards based on incomplete science.”
But Utah is not inventing the wheel; in fact, more than a dozen states have already banned conversion therapy due to the documented harmful effects.
An article by Dr. Jack Turban in Psychology Today aptly puts it, “Psychiatry has a dark history when it comes to supporting LGBT people — or rather, not supporting them. Homosexuality was described as a mental illness for decades until it was dropped from the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. Since then, the field has evolved in its stance toward homosexuality. Conversion therapy for sexual orientation is now considered unethical by both The American Psychiatric Association and The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.”
Likewise, it is unethical to continue enabling its practice in Utah, which is why efforts to reform this must go on and finally and ultimately end in its ban.