Democratic lawmakers, LGBT advocates want NC to ban 'conversion therapy'

Democratic lawmakers filed a bill Thursday that would ban so-called "gay conversion therapy" in North Carolina, marking the first time for such a push.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief, & Matthew Burns, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor
RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic lawmakers filed a bill Thursday that would ban so-called "gay conversion therapy" in North Carolina, marking the first time for such a push.

Fifteen states have already banned the practice, which can involve electric shock treatment, sleep deprivation and starving LGBT youth to encourage them to adopt a heterosexual lifestyle.

"I hope that we can add North Carolina to that number before another one of our young people – or disabled adults in the case of our bill – is harmed by practices that are not medically sanctioned," said Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, one of the sponsors of the bill.

Research has shown conversion therapy doesn't work, and every major medical group in the country has disavowed the practice, according to Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina. Studies also have shown that LGBT children subjected to it face double the risk for suicide.

House Bill 516, called the Mental Health Protection Act, would prohibit licensed therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists and paid pastoral counselors from attempting the therapy on patients under 18 or disabled adults. The professionals could risk losing their licenses if they don't comply.

Adults able to consent to undergoing conversion therapy would be allowed to do so if they choose.

Many providers who practice conversion therapy are affiliated with religious groups, and the proposed ban will likely face opposition from religious conservatives.

"We're not talking about religious freedom. We're talking about people who are licensed therapists in North Carolina," said Allison Scott, director of policies and programs for the Campaign for Southern Equality. "We're not talking about free speech. We're not talking about religion. We're talking about medical professionals and a discredited medical practice."

Johnson, who estimated that 700,000 people nationwide have received some form of conversion therapy, added that parents cannot argue they have the right to seek what they view as necessary treatment for their children.

"Child abuse is not a parental right," she said. "Our youth deserve to grow up in a world that affirms they are loved for exactly who they are."

The bill also would prevent public money from being used to subsidize the therapy, given to organizations that practice it or cover it under insurance.

If the ban is enacted, North Carolina would be the first state in the Southeast to have one in place.

The state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers immediately backed the proposed ban, while the conservative North Carolina Values Coalition called the idea "extreme."

"This proposed legislation represents a broken promise that moves us backwards, not forwards. It puts North Carolina right back in the middle of a divisive, destructive debate that is intolerant, hateful and unnecessary," Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the Values Coalition, said in a statement.

Lawmakers also filed two other LGBT-related bills Thursday. One calls for non-discrimination protections for people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the other would repeal the pieces of the notorious House Bill 2 that are still on the books.

"We believe that, whether you are buying a home, choosing a school or accepting a job, you should never feel disrespected because of who you are or who you love," said Sen. Terry van Duyn, D-Buncombe.

Republican legislative leaders haven't allowed hearings on similar proposals in the past few years, but sponsors expressed confidence that their efforts will eventually succeed.

"We're seeing attitudes change across the state," van Duyn said.

Adopted in 2016, House Bill 2 barred transgender individuals from using public bathrooms in schools and government buildings that didn't match their birth gender. It also prohibited cities and counties from adopting non-discrimination ordinances that included sexual orientation or gender identity.

After months of national backlash, including canceled concerts and conventions, legislators replaced the law in 2017 with one that blocked local non-discrimination ordinances until December 2020 and said only the General Assembly could enact rules over public bathrooms.

LGBT lawmakers got choked up during a news conference when describing their fight for equality.

"We're all human beings, and we all deserve respect," said Rep. Allison Dahle, D-Wake.

"It matters to respect everyone and for us to say everyone is equal, everyone should be afforded their rights," Said Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham.

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