LGBTQ rights activists stage sit-in, get apology from Utah’s governor over conversion therapy ban bill

SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of young LGBTQ rights activists staged a sit-in outside Utah Governor Gary Herber's office over a gutted bill that banned conversion therapy.

House Bill 399 would have prohibited the practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ children. Conversion therapy is defined as efforts to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. But the bill was dramatically altered in committee. House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, made a substitute motion that only prohibited abusive practices (allowing "talk therapy" to go continue) and removing gender identity.

“It was gutted, it looked so hopeful for so long and then last minute they just stopped and they changed it, and it was gone,” said Nathan Winterton, who said he went through abusive conversion therapy after returning from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The bill's new language also excluded transgender people.

”For a legislator to not take a stand for trans-youth… it’s very troubling, it’s extremely troubling to me," said Ermiya Fanaeian, who identifies as a transgender woman.  "Just because we’re here standing up for trans-youth today, doesn’t mean everyone else does."

The changes were so dramatic that HB399's sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, said he could no longer support his own legislation. On Wednesday, he told FOX 13 he would not let the bill go forward in the 2019 legislative session.

Angry over the substitute, which had support from Gov. Herbert, the activists went to the governor's office to demand an apology from him. After a couple of hours, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox emerged from the office and sat down with them.

The activists told FOX 13 he heard personal stories from some of them about going through conversion therapy and its harmful effects. He answered questions about the legislative process and apologized for what happened to the bill. A portion of the conversation a FOX 13 reporter heard included Lt. Gov. Cox promising to keep working with them on future legislation.

He also presented them a written apology from the governor.

"He [Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox] whispered specifically to me, 'I'm sorry' which I was glad to hear,” said Amelia Damarjain, adding: This is a step, it opens up dialogue. It’s not the end and I expect more, but it’s a small start."

The fallout from HB399's failure to pass in the Utah State Legislature also led to Equality Utah director Troy Williams and Taryn Hiatt of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention quitting the governor's task force on youth suicide. They accused Gov. Herbert of turning his back on LGBTQ children and siding with conversion therapists.

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