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Utah Legislature codifies ban on conversion therapy while addressing therapists’ concerns

Gov. Spencer Cox says he’ll sign the bill

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Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, speaks to a bill loosening Utah’s conversion therapy ban, speaks at the Capitol.

Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, sponsor of HB228, a bill loosening Utah’s conversion therapy ban, speaks during a committee meeting of the House Business and Labor Standing Committee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. The bill has won final legislative approval.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

A bill to codify Utah’s conversion therapy ban while also clarifying concerning language for therapists has won final legislative approval.

The Utah Senate voted unanimously to pass HB228 on Friday, after the House also voted unanimously to approve it last week. The bill now goes to Gov. Spencer Cox.

Cox, in a prepared statement, said he would sign the bill.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome on HB228,” Cox said. “The unanimous vote shows a commitment by the various parties to find common ground and we look forward to signing the bill.”

The bill is widely supported by both LGBTQ advocates and therapists for enshrining Utah’s existing conversion therapy ban, previously approved through a 2020 administrative rule by the state Division of Professional Licensing, while also clarifying language that created ambiguity and concerns for Utah therapists, counselors and professionals.

Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice that’s intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, who is also a former counselor, sponsored HB228 to address concerns of therapists who “stopped treating minors because of ambiguity in the DOPL rule and fear of reprisal if they were to say something nonaffirming to their minor patients.”

An earlier draft of HB223 would have loosened the 2020 ban by stating “verbal or written communication by itself does not fall within the definition of conversion therapy.” Advocates, including Equality Utah, opposed that version of the bill, concerned it would allow “talk therapy” forms of conversion therapy for minors.

However, earlier this month Petersen announced he would make changes to the bill to address Equality Utah’s concerns.

“This is an extraordinary moment in Utah’s LGBTQ history,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. “It is the first conversion therapy ban in the country to pass through both chambers unanimously.”

Williams expressed gratitude for the bill’s sponsors and “all of our lawmakers for the collaborative way they have approached this issue.”

It’s a stark difference from the approach Republican lawmakers took earlier in the session, when they pushed through a bill to ban transgender surgeries for Utah children and teens, as well as place an indefinite moratorium on new treatments including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors. Cox was quick to sign the bill, leading LGBTQ groups to promise a lawsuit over the new law.

“As our state continues to navigate challenging issues, we hope that lawmakers will continue to invite stakeholders to the table to seek common ground,” Williams said. “This is an approach to lawmaking that Utah can model for the rest of the nation.”