Tribune Editorial: If Utah politicians won’t ban conversion therapy, Utah experts might

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Taryn Hiatt, with the Utah chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sports a button pin. Hiatt announced her resignation from the state suicide task force in protest of the amended conversion therapy bill. LGBT supporters with Equality Utah and therapists say they will continue to fight conversion therapy during a press conference to condemn the passage of HB399. The House Judiciary Committee approved a substitute bill by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, on Tuesday that would allow therapists to have some discussion about changing sexual orientation with young patients.

It is tempting to chide Gov. Gary Herbert for ducking the question of whether Utah should finally ban the cruel and discredited practice known as “conversion therapy” as practiced on teens and children.

But it is possible that our sometimes reticent chief executive has passed this buck to just the right place.

In its most recent session, the Utah Legislature seemed to be moving toward passing legislation that would ban mental health professionals licensed by the state of Utah from engaging in efforts to turn gay or bisexual youth straight. It is a practice now disowned by the profession generally, as well as being a particularly nasty violation of the if-its-not-broken-don’t-fix-it principle. Prohibiting it by law would have been a very good idea.

But, as the legislative process lurched along, the bill was hijacked and turned into something that would have done little to end a kind of quackery reasonably blamed for much emotional pain, alienation and even suicide. The original sponsors of the bill backed out and the whole thing came to nothing.

Herbert was heard to support the worthless version of the bill, and heard about it loud and clear from LGBTQ advocates who camped out by the governor’s office door, demanded an apology and, eventually, got one.

Then, last week, Herbert announced that he has charged the appropriate part of the state’s bureaucracy — the Psychologist Licensing Board — to come up with a new set of rules and post them for public comment no later than Sept. 16.

Good idea. Probably.

Most of us know little about this board, who is on it and what experience it has guiding its profession. But, clearly, it has the power to set standards for the practice of psychology that have the force of law. And, if its members catch up to such national experts as the American Psychological Association, the days of practicing this cruel form of pseudo-psychiatry on defenseless young people in Utah may be numbered.

In retrospect, we may determine that a less politically fraught approach, where the professionals charged with regulating a profession do what politicians cannot or will not do, might have been the best approach all along.

The risk, of course, is that the board will choke, do nothing, or far too little, and that those few who still believe that you can pray away the gay will take it as an argument that nothing is the right thing to do.

It isn’t.

If the state board does the right thing, the politicians may comfortably duck the issue and future generations of LGBTQ children will yet be spared this torture.

If it doesn’t, well, the lawmakers who wanted to pass the conversion therapy ban are still there. And they will not, and should not, give up.