Metro Weekly

North Carolina governor prohibits use of taxpayer dollars for conversion therapy

Advocates say they'll continue to push for a more permanent statute banning conversion therapy on minors

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper – Photo: Facebook.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has signed an executive order prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to cover conversion therapy or any other attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors.

Under the order, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is prohibited from using either state or federal funds — including North Carolina Medicaid and North Carolina Health Choice — to reimburse practitioners of conversion therapy.

“[I]t is the policy of the Office of the Governor and DHHS to ensure that state and federal funds that are allocated to DHHS and earmarked for medical and mental health care are not used to provide services that have been rejected as ineffective and unsafe by respected medical and mental health professional organizations,” the order reads. “State and federal funds allocated to DHHS are used only for effective therapeutic services that are supported by credible evidence and medical experts.”

The order also urges state entities that do not fall under the purview of the governor to adopt similar policies. 

Most major medical and mental health organizations have previously come out in opposition to conversion therapy, deeming it ineffective and harmful to those subjected to it, and leading to increased rates of depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

Cooper’s executive order is historic, making North Carolina the first Southern state with a statewide policy designed to protect minors from being subjected to conversion therapy.

According to polling conducted in February, 80% of North Carolinians — including 87% of Republicans, 75% of Democrats, and 78% of Independents — support protecting North Carolina’s young people from conversion therapy.

In March, Equality NC and the Campaign for Southern Equality launched a joint statewide campaign aimed at ending conversion therapy, even introducing a bill designed to ban the practice on minors in the state.

Though the bill was effectively tabled, the organizations managed to convince 35 state lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill and built a coalition of more than 65 organizations, clergy members, and mental health practitioners calling for a ban.

“This year our campaign ignited a conversation among North Carolinians about the importance of protecting our kids from ‘conversion therapy,'” Kendra Johnson, the executive director of Equality NC said in a statement. “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.”

The coalition, known as Protect Our Youth NC, will continue to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and push legislators to adopt a more permanent statute that bans the practice.

The Trevor Project, which has been engaged with the National Center for Lesbian Rights as part of the #BornPerfect campaign, which seeks to ban the therapy in all 50 states, issued praise for Cooper.

“The Trevor Project commends Governor Cooper for taking decisive action to highlight the dangers of conversion therapy. While his executive order is a great first step in protecting North Carolinian youth, we must continue to push for comprehensive  protections,” Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “To that end, we call upon the North Carolina state legislature to take up legislation to stop licensed practitioners from violating the ethical guidelines of their profession, and harming the most vulnerable youth in the Tar Heel State.”

The Human Rights Campaign also weighed in on the order, calling it “an important step forward.”

“We look forward to working alongside our partners to pass a law — similar to those enacted in 18 other states — that ould cover all state-licensed professionals working with minors,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a statement. “For North Carolina to be a leader in the South, the governor and the legislature must prioritize full LGBTQ equality.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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