Utah Diocese Backs Proposed State Ban on Conversion Therapy Targeting Minors

Jean Hill

Not long after Pope Francis met with a lesbian woman who advocates against conversion therapy, U.S. dioceses have offered conflicting responses to proposed bans on such debunked psychological practices.

In Utah, the Diocese of Salt Lake City is one of many organizations voicing approval of potential new rules which would prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals in the state from seeking to alter a child’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Jean Hill, who directs the diocese’s Office of Life, Justice, and Peace, explained why Catholics did not have the reservations some other religious leaders in the state had:

“‘We see nothing in the rule that would prohibit therapists from discussing a client’s moral or religious beliefs or practices, or requires a therapist to contradict such beliefs or practices. . .The rule’s specific protection for methods or practices that address an ‘individual’s unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices’ gives us assurance nothing in the rule would lead a therapist to encourage a minor to engage in illegal or unsafe sexual practices of any nature, regardless of sexual orientation.'”

Catholic leaders in Utah have joined LGBTQ advocates, as well as many medical and mental health professionals in expressing their support for a ban, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. But, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), which has a heavy presence in Utah, opposes the ban, saying it would stifle the church’s ability to counsel on faith and sexuality.

Emily Bleyl of the National Association of Social Workers in Utah states that there is no scientific support behind of conversion therapy:

“‘Conversion therapy is, at its core, discriminatory, exploitative and dangerous. There is no empirical evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity can be altered through therapy, and research has found that attempts to do so are dangerous.'”

Instead, conversion therapy often leads to traumatic experiences and depression, as many supporters of the ban noted in newly-released comments to the state. Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country, with many of the most vulnerable citizens being LGBTQ minors. Supporters of this ban argue that this could be a life-saving change for young people in the state.

Jeff Robinson, a therapist who is an opponent of the ban cites parental rights and religious freedom. He claimed “the client’s self-determination is paramount” and they should be allowed to seek help for the choices they want to make, whatever they may be. 

But not all church leaders have affirmed the need to ban conversion therapy. In Missouri, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph opposed such a ban in Kansas City, which was approved unanimously by the 13-member city council. It was perhaps the latest American city to ban conversion therapy, and the second city in Missouri to do so after Columbia. The Kansas City Star reports that similar to the other proposed bans, the new law would only apply to state-licensed mental health professionals counseling minors. Though many religious leaders support the new ban, the Diocese claimed the language of the ban was too broad, calling it an “inappropriate encroachment by a city’s police power into the work of professionals who are already well regulated by professional licensing standards and state law.”

Conversion therapy is already banned in 18 states and many U.S. cities. Catholics have been involved in efforts to implement these bans nationwide, too. According to KTUL-TV, legislation was introduced to the Oklahoma statehouse this year to ban conversion therapy on minors, but it never made it to committee hearings. Several supporters of the proposed ban included Jose Vega, the deputy director of Oklahomans for Equality. After coming out to a devout Catholic family as a teenager, Vega endured conversion therapy at his church. He recalls being forced to kneel for six hours a day in prayer and was given unknown, “nausea-inducing” droplets to swallow every day. This eventually led him to homelessness, though Vega eventually was able to return to school and reconnect with his family.

Bondings 2.0 has previously covered several stories on conversion therapy, its consequences, the controversy surrounding it, and efforts to ban the harmful practice.

Melissa Feito, December 2, 2019

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