SALT LAKE CITY — Ahead of this weekend’s pride festivities, mayoral candidate David Ibarra announced he would ban LGBTQ conversion therapy within city limits, if elected.
"We’re going to take the lead in Salt Lake City and as mayor, I’m going to do everything possible to eliminate conversion therapy," he said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13.
Conversion therapy, where people are pressured to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, has been a hot topic after a bill introduced in the legislature failed to pass. Critics of the practice say it is tied to Utah’s high youth suicide rate.
"Conversion therapy has a lot to do with that rate, in my view," Ibarra said.
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, who sponsored the bill, said he was glad to see building political support for a conversion therapy ban. But he said his preference was legislation for a statewide ban.
"I know there are some cities and counties across the country that have decided to do this themselves," he told FOX 13. "But we are very optimistic we can get this done on a statewide level."
Rep. Hall said negotiations were ongoing with supporters and opponents of the bill to find some language that can be agreed upon. He said it was still possible Gov. Herbert could call a special session later this year to pass a ban.
Ibarra first announced his position in a statement in Q Salt Lake, an LGBTQ community publication. Other candidates for mayor also weighed in on the idea when contacted by FOX 13 on Wednesday.
"I absolutely agree conversion therapy should be banned in Salt Lake City. I’ve been actively looking at what the best route to do this would be and look forward to pursuing a ban if elected as mayor," said David Garbett.
Jim Dabakis said Salt Lake City should ban the practice immediately.
"Postponing doing what’s right for fear of what the legislature or someone else might do is a dereliction of moral responsibility. Salt Lake City must do what’s right and let others do as they will," he said.
"Conversion therapy is that pointed shame exhibited in cruel and dangerous practice. It denies a person their identity and tells them that who they are as a person is wrong. It must not only be denounced, but out-right banned. I was hurt, and frankly angry, this year when the legislature failed to do their part to ban conversion therapy. I hope Salt Lake City can lead the movement to protect our LGBTQ+ youth by banning this reprehensible practice, and I plan to do so as your Mayor," Stan Penfold said in his statement.
Christian Harrison said conversion therapy should be outlawed and praised state officials for trying.
"Banning it within city limits? There’s some good symbolism, there, sure. But let’s talk about what the city can do—today—for its queer citizens. Let’s audit and improve enforcement of our housing and employment non-discrimination laws. Let’s tackle affordable housing and living wages. Sexual minorities make less than their peers and are still experiencing discrimination in housing and employment. Symbolic efforts are useful, but they don’t pay the bills and they don’t keep the rain out," he said.
Luz Escamilla said she has supported the conversion therapy ban while serving in the Utah State Senate.
"As mayor of Salt Lake City, I will continue to use any power vested in that office to fight to eliminate this baseless human rights violation not only from Salt Lake City but the rest of the state as well," she said.
Erin Mendenhall said she did not believe Salt Lake City had the power to ban conversion therapy within its borders.
“Although conversion therapy is a practice I wholeheartedly oppose, no Mayor has the legal authority to prohibit any business licensed by the state, such as therapists licensed through DOPL," she said. "A resolution could be a way for the Mayor to express desire for the state to take legislative action prohibiting conversion therapy, but resolutions do not have the force of law."
Ibarra said whether he has the power or not, he would still try.
"It’s a leadership stance that in Salt Lake City, I’m going to do everything I can to eliminate conversion therapy," he said.
The LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah, which has pushed for a conversion therapy ban, said it wanted the legislature to act.
"We welcome support from politicians and candidates across the state who recognize that conversion therapy harms youth. Ultimately, the state regulates mental health professionals. The legislature must act as a body to protect youth. We can all work together toward that goal," said executive director Troy Williams.