Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proposes new regulations for conversion therapy

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday he is directing the drafting of new rules to regulate psychologists who are treating minor children for sexual orientation or gender identity issues, adding he's been particularly "troubled" by techniques that employ physical distress.

Herbert, in his monthly KUED news conference with reporters, said he wants the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to deliver the proposed rules for public comment on conversion therapy no later than Sept. 16.

"I believe the Psychologist Licensing Board — aided by public input — is the right venue for the issue of professional conduct to be examined and regulated. I also appreciate the action that our administration can take immediately to make a positive difference prior to the next legislative session," he wrote in a letter to Francine Giani, director of the Utah Department of Commerce, which is over the professional licensing division.

Herbert said he is not ruling out a political solution in the next legislative session but sees no reason to wait until January and wants to start the conversation now.

Conversion therapy, banned in 16 states and Washington, D.C., is an umbrella of interventions — such as hypnosis or physical distress — to change a child's sexual orientation or gender identity.

It presumes the behavior is wrong, or needs to be fixed as a mental illness. The nation's leading medical and mental health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association have disavowed the practice.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said conversion therapy lacks scientific credibility and clinical utility.

Herbert's directive, issued June 17 but announced Thursday, is yet another sign that few think the controversial issue of conversion therapy has been properly settled in Utah.

Just Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council unanimously approved a resolution urging Utah lawmakers to revive and pass a law prohibiting conversion therapy.

A bill that would have banned the practice was gutted in the Utah Legislature earlier this year and ultimately stalled.

Herbert said he talked with House and Senate leadership about his desire to see a regulatory framework designed for the practice, and they approved of the move.

Both Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, sponsors of the failed measure, praised Herbert's actions in a joint statement issued Thursday.

“We are encouraged and appreciate the governor taking positive steps forward for those impacted by conversion therapy. We have a lot of work to do as we review this policy and look forward to continuing to work with the governor’s office as we end this antiquated practice,” the statement said.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said the organization is heartened the governor agrees Utah's children must be protected.

"We are hopeful that placing this in the hands of licensed psychologists will result in a complete and permanent ban of this practice in Utah," he said. "We see this as a promising step forward."

Herbert drew notice from young protesters when he supported the watered-down version of the bill during the waning days of the session.

The group staged a sit-in outside his office, and in an apology letter, he conceded he needed to improve his understanding of issues LGBTQ youth face.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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