Utah commerce chief won’t hit the brakes on LGBTQ conversion therapy ban, despite LDS Church objections

SALT LAKE CITY -- The head of Utah's Department of Commerce told FOX 13 she will not halt the process for a pair of rules that effectively ban conversion therapy on LGBTQ children.

"The process right now is in my office," Commerce Executive Director Francine Giani told FOX 13's Ben Winslow on Wednesday. "It will not go back to the boards."

That means the rules are not likely to be pulled back despite comments from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints late Tuesday objecting to the rule. However, the rule could still be modified. If no substantive changes are made, the administrative rules for psychologists and marriage and family therapists in Utah would go into place when the agency decides.

The Church, a powerful cultural and political influence in Utah, objected largely on the grounds that the proposed rules "fail to protect individual religious beliefs and does not account for important realities of gender identity in the development of children." The Church submitted comments to Utah's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) on the last day public comments were taken over the proposed rules. The 26-page document obtained by FOX 13 goes through the rule and outlines the faith's objections.

Giani said in a total of 2,457 public comments were made on the proposed rules. She could not provide a breakdown of for or against because the public comment period had just ended. Her agency will begin reviewing all public comments before the rules would be finalized by DOPL.

Asked whether the Latter-day Saint church's comments carried more weight, she insisted it did not.

"We will look at all comments equally. We will give all comments the same weight," Giani told FOX 13. "This is not a political decision. It is one that hopefully is based on science."

Conversion therapy, defined as attempts to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, has been widely discredited by scientific and professional organizations. A bill to ban it failed to pass the legislature earlier this year (despite the Church having no opposition to it), prompting protests by LGBTQ rights groups and those who have gone through the practice.

“It takes a lot of insecurities that you have and then a professional affirms those insecurities as valid, and that does a lot of damage to someone,” said Nathan Dalley, a former member of the LDS Church who said he spent seven months in conversion therapy. “It led to a lot of unhealthy behaviors.”

Dalley told FOX 13 those behaviors include an increased risk of suicide attempts.

"To be frank, people are dying from this practice. I had friends who have passed away from it, I’ve attempted suicide because of it," he said.

Governor Gary Herbert directed Utah's Department of Commerce to draft rules prohibiting the practice on children, effectively bypassing the legislature. A public comment hearing last month brought out dozens for and against conversion therapy.

In a statement to FOX 13, the governor's office declined to specifically address the Latter-day Saint church's public remarks.

"We are grateful to everyone who has submitted or will submit comment as part of this public process. Public comment is extremely important," Herbert spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt said. "Utah’s Department of Commerce will weigh the evidence and comments and make determinations regarding the rule based on best available information and science."

The Church's comments generated a lot of talk on Utah's Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

"We have really high suicide rates in this community, we have a lot of youth who are looking to lawmakers and community leaders for guidance and support and at the end of the day this is a dangerous and discredited practice in the medical field," said Sen. Derek Kitchen, the only openly gay lawmaker in the legislature.

Speaking to reporters, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the topic might still have to come back to the legislature.

"It is something we care a lot about and we need to make sure that what’s happening in that space and these conversations with youth are happening in the right way," he said. "But I think that from what I’ve seen, the LDS church feels the same way so how do we align interests there? It’s an interesting conversation we have to have."

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, who sponsored the original bill to ban conversion therapy on LGBTQ children, declined to comment until he had read the LDS Church's remarks submitted to licensing officials.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was critical of the Church's remarks.

"It’s disappointing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refuses to highlight the tremendous harm that conversion therapy has done and continues to inflict on countless numbers of people," she said in a statement Wednesday night. "It’s hypocritical to preach compassion while condoning this hateful and failed practice. This issue is not about upholding the rights of religious beliefs. It’s about protecting youth from practices known to inflict harm."

The candidates for Salt Lake City mayor also weighed in. In a statement, Erin Mendenhall called it an "abomination that should be illegal in Utah."

"I strongly support the proposed rule and if it is not adopted, I will do everything I can as mayor to advocate for a permanent ban of this practice from our state," she said.

"I stand with our LGBTQ community and support banning the harmful practice of conversion therapy," Luz Escamilla posted on Twitter. "This last session I supported the ban and I want reiterate my support for it today. Conversion therapy must go!"

Read the LDS Church's comments here: 

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