Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Friday prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for so-called “conversion therapy.”
The practice, which has been condemned by organizations like the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association, attempts to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The order “directs the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to take the appropriate steps to make sure that no taxpayer dollars are used for conversion therapy for minors,” according to Cooper’s office.
It prohibits any medical or mental health provider receiving state or federal funds allocated to the North Carolina DHHS to use those funds for conversion therapy for patients under eighteen years of age.
“State taxpayer money shouldn’t be used for a practice on children that major medical associations agree is harmful and ineffective,”Cooper said in a prepared statement. “Conversion therapy has been shown to pose serious health risks, and we should be protecting all of our children, including those who identify as LGBTQ, instead of subjecting them to a dangerous practice. I’m proud to sign this order and I will continue working to build an inclusive North Carolina that is welcoming and safe.”
A bill to prohibit the practice among minors entirely, 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 has not received a hearing in this legislative session. No such bill has yet been passed in the Southeast.
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.’”
LGBTQ advocates praised Cooper’s action on the issue.
“This year our campaign ignited a conversation among North Carolinians about the importance of protecting our kids from ‘conversion therapy.’” said Kendra Johnson,Executive Director of Equality NC. “It’s gratifying to see Governor Cooper take this critical step in the right direction. No child should be told that they must change their sexual orientation or gender identity; we’re grateful that Gov. Cooper agrees. We are committed to ending this debunked practice and will work for statewide protections.”
Allison Scott, Director of Policy & Programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality, agreed.
“Governor Cooper’s order will create a safer North Carolina for LGBTQ youth,” Scott said. “Young LGBTQ people who endure ‘conversion therapy’ are at an immensely higher risk for depression and suicide than those whose identities are affirmed, a primary reason that we must do all we can to end this dangerous pseudoscience.”
“As we continue our campaign to end conversion therapy once and for all, we’re looking forward to working across North Carolina to share a message of love and affirmation,” Scott said. “We have the momentum, and now it’s time to amplify the voices of North Carolinians everywhere who are taking action to protect our youth.”
Mitchell Gold, founder of North Carolina based furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, said the governor’s order makes him proud to be a North Carolinian.
“As the governor noted there are hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender, and we salute his decision to outlaw this harmful practice which is too often used by religion to bully LGBTQ children for who they are, instilling shame and fear where they should only experience love and support,” Gold said Friday.
Gold is a member of the North Carolina Child Care Commission and the Governor’s Business Council. He is also a board member of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, named for a young man who killed himself in the wake of cyberbullying by his college roommate over his sexuality. The organization works to end bullying in workplaces, and faith communities.
“I am so proud to live in a state that has a Governor who recognizes the humanity of LGBTQ people and serves to protect the sanctity of their lives,” Gold said. “It is good that taxpayer dollars can no longer be used to bully young people in their most formative years. The next step is to rid the state of conversion therapy entirely.”
Jane Clementi, who co-founded the foundation in honor of her late son, called the order a move forward for the state.
“I want to applaud in particular the language that Governor Cooper used asserting that being LGBTQ is ‘an inherent quality, not a disease, disorder, deficiency or shortcoming,’” Clementi said. “North Carolina leaders have not always been such vocal defenders of LGBTQ people and we are heartened to see that changing, especially thanks to local advocates. While this order makes progress, there is still more to be done. We can’t stop until everyone can grow up in a culture of kindness and respect.”