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SALT LAKE CITY — A prominent Utah activist berated Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday over changes made to a bill that would outlaw conversion therapy on minors in the state.
Herbert went back on his promise to support LGBTQ youth by supporting the changes to House Bill 399, Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said Wednesday.
“Governor Herbert turns his back on LGBTQ youth, he turns his back on the leading medical and mental health experts and he sided with conversion therapists,” Williams said.
The bill is currently circled on the House calendar for a third reading, but momentum on the bill appeared to come to a halt on Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, who sponsored the amended version of the bill, told KSL.com in an email Wednesday that "the sponsor has stated that he will not bring (HB399) back for discussion or passage."
Williams announced at a Wednesday press conference that he is resigning from Herbert’s Youth Suicide Task Force. Taryn Hiatt, with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Utah, also announced she will resign from the group.
However, the bill’s original sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, refused to support the substitute, saying Lisonbee’s version would not prevent conversion therapy.
In a Wednesday letter addressed to Williams, Herbert said he was very sorry that Williams decided to resign from the task force and said Williams’s time with the group was appreciated and valued.
In the letter, the governor said he appreciated Williams’ work to improve life for people in the LGBTQ community.
“In this matter, I have felt that it is very important that our LGBTQ+ youth need better access to trusted professionals and people they can talk to about their identity and feelings,” Herbert wrote. “I also think it’s important to protect the rights of parents in counseling with their children in these sensitive matters.”
The governor sent a similar letter to Hiatt on Wednesday.
Herbert invited Williams to meet with him to discuss Williams’ specific concerns, according to the letter. He said that working together would produce good policy for Utah.
“I am anxious to ensure that these precious youth — of limitless potential and boundless worth — are loved and accepted for who they are,” Herbert wrote. “Our shared goal of reducing teen suicide should remain our primary focus and objective.”
Herbert has backed HB399, calling some forms of conversion therapy “barbaric.”
Herbert supported Lisonbee's substitute bill because it became clear to him that the original version of HB399 was not going to pass through the committee, Herbert's Deputy Chief of Staff Paul Edwards told KSL.com.
In order to see a bill passed this legislative session, Herbert supported the substitution, Edwards said.
"Our effort was to see that something would pass this session that would help to curtail abusive and unprofessional practices," Edwards said. "Since we believed that the original bill didn’t have the votes for passage, the governor was looking for a different vehicle to see some progress, and hence his support for the fourth substitution."
In a House Judiciary Committee session on March 1, Lisonbee said she had heard concerns from some therapists that the original language of the bill was too prescriptive, and that it might create a chilling effect that would prevent therapists from responding most appropriately to their clients.
“I agree with them that this language is very prescriptive,” Lisonbee said. “I certainly do not want to in any way encourage somebody to engage with a client in these abusive types of therapies. … This is something that we need to be extremely cautious about.”
Wednesday, Lisonbee said in an email to KSL.com that Williams made several false claims.
"It seems contradictory for (Williams) to walk away from a task force that is working to prevent teen suicide and then assert that committee members willing to support a conversion therapy ban are 'turning their backs' on LGBTQ youth," she said. "The idea that there is only one way to prohibit a bad practice is not only naïve, it is patently false. The legislative process is rarely all or nothing."
Williams said Wednesday this is the beginning of a journey, and LGBTQ advocates are ready to continue fighting against conversion therapy for as long as it takes.
“We will return again and again until we end this harmful practice,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, we are here to protect LGBTQ lives. We are going to be... meeting with the governor and every lawmaker, day after day, year after year until this practice ends.”