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Utah and Somalia: Not So Different


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In our supposedly "modern" world, more than 200 million girls have been subjected to the horror of FGM (female genital mutilation). This barbaric practice has been renounced by the World Health Organization, and many enlightened countries have enacted laws to stop it.

By removing parts of girls' external genitalia, most of its unwilling young victims must resign themselves to lives of diminished sexual pleasure, severe pain and deprivation of the quality of life that should be an inalienable right of humanity. The impact is unimaginable. In some countries, like Somalia, the percentage of "cut" women is as high as 98 percent. While religions have certainly played a part in establishing FGM as a pseudo-ritual, the practice is sustained and reinforced by the misogynist understanding that diminished female sexuality will assist in keeping wives at home.

Although we cannot say never, FGM has not been a significant issue in our state, but the sad part is that one particular form of sexual mutilation has persisted here for more than 50 years. Sadly, predominant religions are at the root of the problem.

Understanding that the mind and body are inseparable, it becomes crystal-clear that the cruel manipulations of young minds, often employing methods worthy of the Inquisition, have done permanent psychological harm to thousands of young gays subjected to the Dark Ages' practice of conversion therapy. It might not constitute genital mutilation, but it has similarly grave consequences.

In 1976, Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer declared, "There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just 'that way' and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life ... Boys are to become men—masculine, manly men—ultimately to become husbands and fathers."

Packer was not alone. The leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued statements describing same-sex attraction as a matter of nurture, not nature, and set about to change the futures of its young gay members. The church became an institutional flag-bearer of conversion therapy. Through a number of associated organizations, programs were established and Mormon bishops were encouraged to promote them. The program included various types of aversion therapy in which therapists provided homosexual pornography while administering either electro-genital shocks or chemically-induced, violent nausea. The theory—straight out of the movie A Clockwork Orange—was that the unpleasant/painful experience would end the undesirable sex attraction.

Only recently, did the church have a change of heart. David Matheson, Mormonism's gay conversion therapy guru, apologized to all the people that had been harmed by the program, admitting that, not only was the therapy (mostly) ineffective, but that it served to intensify the guilt of young gay members and probably led to teen suicides.

Condemnation of the treatment has led to 15 states passing legislation banning the practice, and Utah was set to become the 16th. Legislation was sponsored by Reps. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and Craig Hall, R-West Valley City—both faithful "brethren"—and the church announced that it would not fight passage of the law.

But then—oh, dear—along came crusader-zealot and closet-homophobe Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, who sponsored new language to allow conversion therapy, in at least some forms, to continue. That threw a wrench into the gears, gutting the proposed law, and stopping its proponents in their tracks. At the close of the legislative session, Gov. Gary Herbert had the decency—and the guts—to publicly apologize for the failure, crediting his part in the law's derailment as a "misunderstanding," and suggesting, without actually saying the words, that he had been duped by the addition of language that had, essentially, gutted the legislation.

Lisonbee is one of the dinosaurs that claim—and support with anecdotal evidence—that there are many cases in which gay conversion therapy has actually changed someone's sexual preference. But health experts are virtually unanimous that the practice has been ineffective and caused a great deal of harm. It has survived largely because churches have been unable to accept the reality—that personal sexual preferences are a hard-wired component of every child born.

The failure to ban conversion therapy is both perplexing and frightening. It's an issue that can't and won't be forgotten. Utah isn't about to allow female cutting; there are laws against it. But allowing therapists the right to attempt amputation of a young person's sexual identity must also end. The next Legislature will certainly be required to weigh-in on this issue. We need to make sure that our governor and Legislature make it the law.

The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to comments@cityweekly.net



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