Maine made history Wednesday, becoming the 17th U.S. state to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy,” which attempts to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
A similar bill, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in the North Carolina House in March. Despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support for the ban, it faced stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative Republicans and did not receive a hearing in this legislative session. No such bill has yet been passed in the Southeast.
In April, Policy Watch had an exclusive interview with Sam Brinton, director of Advocacy for The Trevor Project and Garrard Conley, author of the best-selling conversion therapy memoir “Boy Erased.”
Conley and Brinton both emphasized the progress in North Carolina even filing a bill and beginning the conversation in the state.
“Submitting the bills is the important part,” said Brinton. “We talk about the Colorados and the Massachusettses, but North Carolina filing a bill was radical. Youth here are calling us and saying ‘I’m not in crisis now, I’m in celebration.’”
In Colorado, a bill was filed five times before finally passing the House and Senate this year. The governor is expected to sign it into law next week.
In Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2004, a bill outlawing conversion therapy wasn’t passed until just this year.
“It’s kind of like the starter pistol when a state puts forth a bill,” Conley said. “When I was in Texas speaking not too long ago, they had a bill fail. But the woman who was there who had put it forward was like, ‘We were able to have a huge conversation. We were able to have op-eds in the paper. It was a basis for discussion. So, as many times as you have to do that, keep doing it.’”
The conversation is key, Brinton said.
“It’s another mother who says, ‘Should I be putting my child through this?’” Brinton said. “Because the state is debating whether this should even be legal.”
N.C. Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Davidson) was a primary sponsor of the Mental Health Protection Act, but was pretty clear eyed about its chances this legislative session.
“I think the Republican leadership have their agenda set,” Marcus said. “I have no indication that banning conversion therapy is part of their agenda.”
It may take a political shift in 2020 to change the leadership in the General Assembly, she said, and to accomplish what an increasing states already have.
“But what we’re doing now is how it starts,” she said.
A political shift did make the difference in Marine, where despite a bill outlawing conversion therapy passing last year it was vetoed by former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican.