Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) issued an apology Thursday to a group of young LGBTQ activists angered by the demise of a bill that would have outlawed “gay conversion therapy” for minors in the state.
Until this week, Utah seemed poised to follow states like Delaware, Maryland and New York by passing legislation prohibiting licensed mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors.
Hebert endorsed House Bill 399, as did other lawmakers in the state’s Republican-dominated legislature. Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said they would not oppose it.
By Wednesday, however, the bill was put on hold indefinitely after it was extensively revised in committee and faced pushback from lawmakers and LGBTQ advocacy groups. The new wording meant that the conversion therapy ban would apply only to methods that induced “physical discomfort,” like nausea or vomiting, and appeared to exclude transgender youths.
The following day, more than 30 young activists staged a sit-in outside Herbert’s office at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, demanding an apology. By evening, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox presented the group with a letter from Herbert, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“I realize there is much I do not understand about the issues that LGBTQ youth face every day. I also believe that you deserve to be heard,” he wrote, as seen in photos posted on social media.
“We have had an enormous misunderstanding, and I am sorry,” he continued.
Cox, meanwhile, sat with the activists, offered a verbal apology and promised to keep working with them on future legislation.
The young activists seemed mollified by the response.
“[Cox] whispered specifically to me, ‘I’m sorry’ which I was glad to hear,” Amelia Damarjain, 19, told Fox 13. “This is a step, it opens up dialogue. It’s not the end and I expect more, but it’s a small start.”
If HB 399 had passed, Utah would have joined 15 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., in banning the medically denounced practice of conversion therapy. (The Beehive State would have been the most conservative of those states to do so.)
Conversion therapy has been known to include methods such as electroshock therapy in efforts to change same-sex attraction or limit acting on it. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have discredited conversion therapy, and it can lead to depression and suicide, particularly among minors, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The practice, however, continues to be promoted in conservative religious communities.