Q&A: Marina Lowe, Policy Director at Equality Utah, on LGBTQ advocacy in Utah
Prior to joining Equality Utah, Lowe was Legislative & Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Utah and has been instrumental in helping pass non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. She has spent years advocating for LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom, and criminal justice reform, successfully drafting and passing numerous bills in the Utah State Legislature.
State of Reform: Utah legislators are planning to reintroduce conversion therapy in the next session. What would be the health and social impacts from repealing the ban on such practices?
Marina Lowe: “We’re deeply concerned with any effort to re-legalize conversion therapy. It’s not just our position but the position of every major medical association and group in the United States that conversion therapy is deeply harmful. It’s scientifically discredited, creates deep trauma and harm, and isn’t successful at any rate. We’re deeply concerned about that we know that it can lead to increased thoughts of suicidal ideation, self harm, other issues with self confidence, self esteem, just tremendous mental and physical health problems that can result from this type of so-called treatment.”
SOR: How harmful is the ban on transgender participation in school sports and how are you supporting efforts to have it repealed?
ML: “We have had efforts to block transgender girls from participating in school sports for the past 2 legislative sessions. It’s not unique to Utah. Many states around the country have also seen these bans introduced. In the second year that the Utah Legislature considered this issue, they did go ahead and pass a full ban, but they also passed language, a fallback provision, putting in place this idea of a commission that would determine eligibility.
The full ban was challenged in court and like so many other challenges across the country was at least initially put on hold by a judge just recently, a few weeks ago, and that in turn kicks into effect this commission that will be determining eligibility supposedly. There may be some problems with that approach as well, both from a fairness perspective and also legally.
We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. The commission has not yet been constituted. Meanwhile, the school year has begun. And so at the moment, at least, there isn’t currently anything in effect that would block a transgender girl from from being able to participate.
I think it’s important to stress that, at the time that this legislation was passed, there was one transgender girl participating in high school athletics in the state of Utah. All of this effort and sort of legislative apparatus was directed at a single student. What that says to us and to many others is that this is a lot of fear driven hysteria rather than trying to solve a real problem that might exist in our state.”
SOR: Can you describe what the LGBTQ community in Utah has endured in recent years? How is Equality Utah addressing the mental health needs of community members?
ML: “Utah is an interesting place for the LGBT community. It’s a deeply red conservative state. It’s a state with an overwhelming religious majority that is traditional, at least in its views of what the nuclear family is supposed to look like. But I think we’ve seen deep evolution in the state of Utah on a lot of these issues.
We pride ourselves at Equality Utah as being an organization that helps to sort of move things along progressively, and to work with people across the aisle to put in place policies that really help everyone. Unlike some of our other conservative red states, we’ve been able to see great progress, whether that be a ban on conversion therapy. But we were also a state that passed non-discrimination law that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in terms of housing and employment. We did that with the full support of the [Latter Day Saints] Church and with the overwhelming support of the entire legislature, which is predominantly Republican.
We’ve had a series of legislative successes along those lines that have been really unique and speak to the fact that we are an inclusive community and that the LGBTQ people who live in our state are part of that community. But the tide has shifted a little bit in the past few years. We’ve seen a lot, especially on the national level that seemed deeply harmful and to hear statements from the Supreme Court Justices indicating that marriage equality should be revisited is deeply troubling.”
SOR: What are the health policy priorities for the LGBTQ community that state leaders should be focused on instead?
ML: “One thing that we’re staring down for this upcoming session is the possibility of a ban on access to medical treatment for transgender youth. This is not unique to Utah. We’re seeing this all across the country, the sorts of bans that are coming up, and we will certainly see legislation introduced along those lines.
We’re deeply concerned about the idea of a ban. There is some significant scientific evidence that suggests that this sort of treatment can be very helpful for transgender youth and that this is certainly a place where parents and doctors along with their patients should be making these decisions rather than the Utah Legislature or some other governmental agency.
We would suggest that they not focus on these private medical decisions, but instead, figure out ways to make LGBTQ youth feel more included and supported in their communities, to not be undertaking efforts to like we are seeing in Utah and other places to remove books or literature that document the experiences or reflect LGBTQ themes, to make sure that there are safe spaces in schools for kids to be themselves.”
This interview was edited for clarity and length.