Governor Herbert Takes on Stalemate Over Conversion Therapy

Utah Governor Gary Herbert took unresolved matters into his own hands in a move that surprised many in the state’s legislature as well as it’s clinical psychology and LGBTQ communities when he announced that he had directed the state’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to “provide additional guidance for the development of rules on the ethical and professional practice of psychology in Utah.” This, as a response to failed attempts by the state’s lawmakers to adequately develop ethical regulations on psychological interventions for minor children regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity.  

During the state’s 2019 legislative session a bill to effectively ban “conversion therapy” programs for minors residing in the state was met with opposition in the House of Representatives, killing any chance at passage at the time. In the months following, LGBTQ advocacy groups like Equality Utah, as well as the state’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, renewed discussions with Herbert’s office to find an alternative. The original bill to ban the controversial practice was unopposed by the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which was significant to advocates on both sides of the issue. When the bill to ban the practice met with a last-minute substitution focusing on only the most extreme efforts practiced by therapists, all efforts ceased through the session’s adjournment. 

Troy Williams, Executive Director for Equality Utah issued a statement on Thursday following the Governor’s announcement which read in part that Equality Utah “is heartened that the Governor agrees that Utah’s children must be protected from the life-threatening practice of conversion therapy, which has been condemned by all of the nation’s leading medical and mental health organizations.”  

Acknowledging competing interests and jurisdictions advising the licensing of mental health professionals in his state, Herbert directed the Marriage and Family Therapists Board, the Clinical Mental Health Board and the Social Worker Licensing Board to yield to the authority and efforts of the Psychologists Licensing Board, “aided by requisite public input,” on this specific matter. In a letter to Francine Giani at the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, Herbert stated that he was “very concerned about what I have learned regarding the lack of understanding many parents have concerning so-called ‘conversion therapy’” and went on to request Giani’s Division to “carefully consider how psychologists can guide and tutor family dynamics in situations where interventions are sought.”  

In a nod to his legislative leadership, Herbert also acknowledged the potential for future legislation that may be needed in concert with Division’s findings and recommendations. The Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing was directed to have their work summarized and ready for public comment by September 16, 2019, ahead of the 2020 legislative session beginning in January. 

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