Virginia becomes first state in the South to ban LGBTQ “conversion therapy” for minors

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law Monday making Virginia the first Southern state to outlaw “conversion therapy” on LGBTQ minors.

The scientifically discredited practice — which aims to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — is now illegal in 20 states.

“At the Trevor Project, we hear from LGBTQ youth in crisis every day and we know that those who are subjected to conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide,” Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for the group, said in a statement Monday. “This bold action will send a message to all LGBTQ young people in the great Commonwealth of Virginia that they are loved and deserve support.”

Policy Watch has reported extensively on the controversy over conversion therapy and the national movement to outlaw the practice.

A bill to prohibit the practice among minors entirely, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in the North Carolina House in March last year.

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 August, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for “conversion therapy.”

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.

Cooper emphasized that the practice has been condemned by organizations like the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association and has been connected to self harm and suicide.

Last month Virginia became the first Southern state to pass a sweeping LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill and is now poised to pass a law banning health insurance companies from denying or limiting coverage based on a patient’s gender identity or transgender status. 

Policy Watch has covered the battle for such protections in North Carolina and detailed the change in policy under State Treasurer Dale Folwell that led to the state health care plan’s blanket ban on coverage of any treatment related to a patient being transgender.

As Policy Watch reported last year, the board of trustees of the state health care plan voted to begin covering treatments for gender dysphoria at the end of 2016, near the end of Janet Cowell’s term as State Treasurer. The move was necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act. When Folwell came into office in 2017, he made it clear he opposed the move, calling transition-related care elective and unnecessary.

The plan’s trustees allowed the coverage to expire at the first opportunity — not renewing it for the 2018 plan year or for 2019.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina has recognized dysphoria as a serious medical issue and covered treatments related to transition, including hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery. Transgender patients and their doctors have testified before the plan’s board of trustees that the treatment is necessary and life-saving.

Despite that, Folwell has said he does not intend to change the policy until ordered to do so by court order.

State employees took Folwell at his word and sued over the change last year.

“We are more than confident the court will deliver just that order,”said Taylor Brown, staff attorney with Lambda Legal. “And explain to Mr. Folwell what the United States Constitution and federal law commands with regard to equal treatment of transgender people.”

The new raft of LGBTQ protections in Virginia had been in the works for years in Virginia but had stalled in the Republican controlled House or Senate. In November Democrats took control of both houses and the governor’s mansion for the first time in 26 years.

“Ex-gay” minister condemns “conversion therapy” he promoted for decades

The founder of one of the nation’s largest “conversion therapy” groups has come out as gay and is apologizing for his role in popularizing the practice.

So-called “conversion therapy,” 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.

McKrae Game — founder of South Carolina’s Hope for Wholeness —  is disavowing the “ex-gay” ministry that promoted the practice through social media and an interview last week with the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston.

“It’s all in my past,” Game said in a Facebook post last weekend. “But many, way TOO MANY continue believing that there is something wrong with themselves and wrong with people that choose to live their lives honestly and open as gay, lesbian, trans, etc.,”

“Learn to love yourself and others,” he said.

Game, who spent more than 20 years promoting conversion therapy through religious ministry, said he’d like to see all such program end.

“I created it all,” told the Post and Courtier of Hope for Wholeness. “We have harmed generations of people.”

In 2017 the organization’s board of directors abruptly fired Game. In June of this year Game cut his ties with the organization and came out as gay.

“When the reporter asked me if I’d like to see Hope for Wholeness shut down, I said I’d like all exgay ministry and conversion therapy counselors and organizations shut down,” Game said in his Facebook post.

Hope for Wholeness, based in South Carolina, became one of the nation’s largest conversion ministries. Through programs of its type, nearly 700,000 LGBT-identifying adults have undergone some form of conversion therapy as of 2018, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.

Last month, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order prohibiting North Carolina taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for conversion therapy.

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.”

Policy Watch has reported extensively on the controversy over conversion therapy and the national movement to outlaw the practice.

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 any state 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.”

The Trevor Project’s 50 States 50 Bills initiative is working to pass bills protecting minors from conversion therapy across the country. So far, eighteen states have laws or regulations preventing the practice for those under 18.

The Movement Advancement Project map of states with laws governing “conversion therapy.”

The Trevor Project  recently released the results of its inaugural 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, including insights around conversion therapy. The cross-sectional national survey of LGBTQ youth across the United States found :

  • 2 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that someone tried to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, with youth who have undergone conversion therapy more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not.
  • 42 percent of LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the past year.
  • 57 percent of transgender and non-binary youth who have undergone conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the last year.

 

Gov. Cooper issues executive order on LGBTQ “conversion therapy”

Gov. Roy Cooper

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.”

Policy Watch has reported extensively on the controversy over conversion therapy and the national movement to outlaw the practice.

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.

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.’”

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.”

Colorado becomes 18th state to outlaw “conversion therapy” as North Carolina’s bill goes unheard

Last week Colorado became the 18th U.S. state to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy” — a scientifically discredited practice that attempts to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado’s openly gay governor, also signed a bill that will make it easier for transgender people to get state-issued ID and other documents that correctly reflects their gender identity.

In North Carolina, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in March. It would outlaw converstion therapy, part of a rapidly growing national movement.  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 any state in the Southeast.

The Movement Advancement Project’s map of laws banning conversion therapy

The Colorado bill didn’t happen overnight, either. A bill outlawing conversion therapy was filed five times before finally being passed and signed into law this year.

When North Carolina’s bill was introduced back in March, Sen. Terry van Duyn (D-Buncombe) said Democratic lawmakers know they face opposition from religious groups and their Republican colleagues – but these bills can be the beginning of a conversation that may change minds.

“We’re seeing attitudes change across the state,” van Duyn said. “Sometimes it takes legislators a little while to catch up with the people they represent.”

 

Maine becomes 17th state to outlaw conversion therapy, NC bill not given a hearing

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.