The executive director of Equality Utah resigned from the state’s Youth Suicide Task Force after Governor Gary Herbert and leading Republican state legislators endorsed a watered-down version of a bill that would have banned gay conversion therapy.
The original bill largely mirrored conversion therapy bans passed in other states, including New York, as it would have prevented minors from being subjected to the harmful practice. But Republican House member Karianne Lisonbee pitched a revamped version of the bill that makes no mention of restrictions on using conversion therapy on transgender youth and in the case of so-called “sexual orientation change efforts” bans only conversion therapy that “subjects a patient or client to physical discomfort.” The revised measure does bar conversion therapy to the extent it offers a guarantee that it “will result in a complete and permanent reversal in the patient or client’s sexual orientation,” but otherwise leaves open the door to “talk therapy,” often coercive in non-physical ways, aimed at altering a youth’s sexual orientation.
In his March 6 letter, which was addressed to Herbert, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, and Utah House member Steve Eliason, Williams noted a series of recent developments that he found disturbing and explained that the emergence of the new watered-down measure prompted him to finally pull the plug on his gig with the task force.
Williams said that an anti-bullying proposal he put forward received no consideration and that Herbert had evaded his questions about the governor’s earlier promise to focus on the LGBTQ population in addition to veterans and Native American youth. In January, Williams said, he pitched the conversion therapy bill and stressed that he’d already landed the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“But yesterday, Governor, you turned your back on LGBTQ youth and the medical and mental health establishment,” Williams wrote. “By endorsing Rep. Lisonbee’s hostile substitute, you effectively cast your lot with a band of discredited and dangerous conversion therapists, who are still practicing techniques that harm youth — some lethally.”
He went on to slam the governor for the exclusion of transgender children from the new bill and said the amended measure would “allow conversion therapists to continue their practice with impunity.”
“It is clear you have no interest in keeping your promise, nor are you interested in the plight of LGBTQ youth,” Williams concluded. “I will not be window dressing to provide the Task Force cover.”
Utah House member Craig Hall, a Republican, was originally the sponsor of the bill — but pulled it on Wednesday after he could not support the new version.
Following Williams’ resignation, another member of the Youth Suicide Task Force, Taryn Hiatt of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, also resigned from the task force in what was seen as an act of solidarity.