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Utah governor takes action to regulate conversion therapy

Herbert says practice seems ‘unethical’

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Gary Herbert, Utah, gay news, Washington Blade, Republican Party
Gary Herbert, Utah, gay news, Washington Blade, Republican Party
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ordered a Utah board to review conversion therapy. (Photo public domain).

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has taken action that could lead to the regulation of “ex-gay” conversion therapy in a state with a history of widespread use of the discredited practice.

In a letter dated June 17 and made public Thursday, Herbert ordered the Utah’s Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing to establish rules to regulate psychological interventions with LGBT youth and prevent unethical practices.

“This needs to be done in an area that should be governed by the best available science rather than left unregulated or regulated in a manner that is colored by politics,” Herbert writes. “Specifically, I want the state to ethically regulate psychological interventions for minor children regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Herbert, a Republican, ordered the proposed rules to be available for public comment not later Sept. 16.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the impetus for the order was a failed attempt in the Utah state legislature to ban conversion therapy.

“It came very close to passing, it had bipartisan support, Gov. Herbert supported the bill,” Minter said.

But the law, Minster said, was “was basically sabotaged at the last minute” by the introduction of a substitute bill that “would have seriously gutted the protections.”

The new proposal, Minter said, would have “limited the protections only to so-called aversive therapies, which have meant virtually nothing because the overwhelming majority of conversion therapy is non-aversive, it’s talk therapy.”

Minter said Herbert “waffled publicly, and took some serious heat for that, as he should have” from Utah’s LGBT community.

“The aftermath of that experience left the LGBTQ community in Utah, I think, very distressed and upset, including upset with the governor because it was so baffling that was so originally so clear and supportive of the law that would have actually protected LGBT young people, and his waffling played a role in the legislation falling through,” Minter said.

According to the Daily Beast, a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for youth in Utah seemed to poised to pass in March. But a House committee instead passed the watered-down bill, which was later tabled without coming up a floor vote.

Meanwhile, conversion therapy for youth is banned in 18 states and D.C. The most recent additions are Maine and Colorado, which enacted laws against the practice just this year.

Minter said Herbert “did some soul-searching after that happened, and I think, wanted something positive to happen on this issue,” which led to the order.

“It was surprising to hear that, but having had the chance to digest it and to evaluate it, I think it’s very positive development, especially given the legislation falling through, which is so bitterly disappointing,” Minter said.

Utah has “a desperate, urgent” need for a conversion therapy ban, Minter said, because of the state’s history.

“If you’re going to point on state where conversion therapy has been absolutely rampant, it would be Utah,” Minter said,

Minter said he doesn’t have data to back up the prevalence of conversion therapy in Utah, but knows the practice is widespread in the state based on his past work.

“The very case I ever worked on 26 years ago was a 16-year-old lesbian from California who got shipped to a Utah treatment center, and over the years had a number of clients who had been in treatment facilities in Utah,” Minter said.

One prominent survivor of conversion therapy is Alex Cooper, a lesbian who grew up in a Mormon family was subjected to the practice in Utah as youth. Cooper later wrote a book, “Saving Alex,” which described her experience in detail, including being forced to stand against a wall wearing a backpack full of rocks for hours on end.

“Anyone who works in this field knows there a constant stream of young people who are being sent to Utah for those treatments,” Minter said.

The Mormon Church, Minter said, for a long time openly supported conversion therapy, but then definitely rejected it two years ago, calling it “abusive.” Earlier this year, the church declined to fight against the conversion therapy bill in the legislature.

Herbert in his letter described his personal discomfort with the idea of conversion therapy, although he refrained from making any conclusions.

“Since I am not a psychologist, I do not presume to understand precisely what inferences to draw from the psychological literature on this subject,” Herbert writes. “Nonetheless, I am particularly troubled by what I have learned about intervention using physical distress. In my understanding, such techniques would seem to be unethical, and, therefore, I do not understand why they would be part of professional practice.”

Anna Lehnardt, a Herbert spokesperson, said the order doesn’t have any preordained conclusion and “we don’t know what the rule making process will recommend.”

Minter, nonetheless said he’s “very confident” the order would lead to regulations against conversion therapy in Utah.

“There is no disagreement within the mental health community about this,” Minter said. “It’s unanimous view of every single leading mental health organization in the country that subjecting minors to conversion therapy is extremely dangerous.”

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National

DOJ urged to investigate threats against providers of transition-related care

Boston-area hospital forced to evacuate in August

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A coalition of major health organizations are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigation threats against providers of gender transition-related medical care for youth, asserting ongoing hostility, including bomb threats and threats of personal violence.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, says medical providers are facing threats for providing “evidence-based health care” to youth, which has meant care for gender transitions, such as hormones, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. The targets of these threats, the letter says, are children’s hospitals, academic health systems and physicians across the country.

“These coordinated attacks threaten federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families,” the letter says. “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

The letter has an organizational signature from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, listing no names as representatives. According to the letter, the group represent 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country.

Major health organizations call on the U.S. Justice Department to take action weeks after Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to evacuate over a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a woman charged with making the after she reportedly phoned in the threat and called the staff “sickos.”

The threats, the letter says, have had significant impact on providers and services to patients, including a new mother being prevented from being with her preterm infant because of a bomb threat; the need for increased security at children’s hospitals; and staffers facing “increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts.”

A statement from organizations accompanying the letter urges social media companies — including Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram — to “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation.”

Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement accompanying the letter “individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal.”

“As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes,” Resneck said.

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the Justice Department seeking comment on the letter and the American Medical Association seeking comment on why the letter has organizational signatures as opposed to signatures from any of their representatives.

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Virginia

Youngkin makes additional appointments to Va. LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

Governor plans to revise transgender, nonbinary student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday announced the appointment of three people to the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Youngkin named Kerry Flynn, Jason Geske and Collin J. Hite to the board.

Casey Flores, the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Richmond, in July resigned from the board before his tenure was to begin. The resignation came amid growing criticism over a series of anti-LGBTQ and misogynist comments he made against Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), among others.

Youngkin last month announced he plans to revise the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. Thousands of high school students across Virginia on Sept. 27 walked out of class in protest of the planned revision.

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National

Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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