Asheville area lawmakers have proposed a North Carolina ban on conversion therapy, a practice critics say puts LGBTQ people at risk of addiction, depression and suicide.
The ban was one of three proposed laws to grow LGBTQ discrimination protections and repeal remnants of the "bathroom bill." The trio of bills were introduced March 28 by Buncombe County Democrats Rep. Susan Fisher and Sen. Terry Van Duyn, also a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Van Duyn, speaking at a morning press conference in Raleigh, said if passed the laws would ensure "there are no second class citizens in North Carolina."
One proposal, House Bill 514 "Equity for all," would offer protections against discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, insurance and education.
House Bill 515 would repeal the amended House Bill 2. That 2016 law, also known as "HB2" prevented local governments from approving LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances and directed transgender people to use public bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. The Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2017 repealed portions of the measure with House Bill 142, but some restrictions remain in place.
The conversion therapy ban, Senate Bill 426 — also introduced as House Bill 516 — would outlaw state-licensed counselors, social workers and psychiatrists from engaging in professional efforts to alter a youth’s sexual orientation.
"We believe that members of the LGBTQ community are children of God, as are we all, and call out the dangerous and discredited practice of so called ‘conversion therapy,’" Van Duyn said.
In Asheville, local faith leaders and activists gathered at a "Born Perfect" press conference at First Congregational United Church of Christ to support the legislation.
"I can think of no better place than a house of worship to announce the good news that there are now before our state legislature three bills affirming the dignity and beauty of God’s creation in every person," said First Congregation minister Kim Buchanan, "including a proposal to ban a therapeutic practice designed not to affirm, but to do violence to the image of God in some of God’s children."
The American Psychological Association has come out against the practice, but versions are still used by about a dozen therapists and organizations in the state, said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, director of the Campaign for Southern Equality who is also an elected Buncombe County Commissioner.
In July the Ridgecrest Conference Center in eastern Buncombe will host Hope for Wholeness, a South Carolina religious group that promotes "Freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ."
Nylene Wilds, an office manager for the group, said they do not consider what they do conversion therapy but do use licensed therapists and believe they could be affected by the bill.
"People come to us and say we struggle with homosexuality," Wilds said.
The Rev. Tom Cash of Asheville, said he experienced conversion therapy when he was in his 20s living in Southern California.
"At that time I was involved in the fundamentalist church. And I thought I was living in sin and was going to hell so I thought I better check in," said Cash, who is gay.
For four years Cash was under the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week house program of Deliverance Ministries that used "a lot of verbal abuse" and told him gay people have demons, he said.
At one point, Cash said program leaders tried to arrange his marriage to a woman to change his sexual orientation. He left after an argument with the leadership and suffered for years with alcoholism and PTSD.
"Because I believed what they told me about myself and the hate I had for myself and the hate I thought God had for me."
Cash said he found respite and acceptance at another California church open to LGBT members.
Now Cash leads 11 a.m. Sunday services at the Jesus People and Arts Worship Center at 278 Haywood Road in West Asheville, a ministry, "for anyone" he said, including people "who have been disenfranchised for any reason from the church."
Efforts to end conversion therapy have met success but also resistance. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws designed to protect children from the practice. Legislatures in Colorado and Massachusetts passed measures not yet signed by their governors. Bills have already been filed in three other southern states: Georgia, Virginia and Florida.
The bill’s fate is uncertain in North Carolina’s General Assembly with the GOP majority having passed laws to restrict, rather than enlarge LGBT protections.
Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards, whose Henderson County based District 48 includes part of Asheville and Buncombe, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
Fellow Henderson Republican, Rep. Chuck McGrady said he wouldn’t comment on legislation he hasn’t read.
Republicans no longer have veto-proof control, as they did when the legislature approved HB2. That now provides more negotiation tools for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said his long-term goal is a statewide nondiscrimination law.
Support for such measures may grow with more LGBT lawmakers in Raleigh. Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham County said as a legislator she hadn’t talked publicly about being a lesbian until the morning Legislative Building news conference.
A District Court judge before joining the House in 2017, Morey recalled "listening to cases affording people’s rights, when my rights couldn’t be afforded and the hypocrisy of that."
In Asheville, Commissioner and minister Beach-Ferrara said she believes "minds and hearts" can be changed even just by introducing such measures.
"Laws even when they are bills that have been introduced have a teaching effect."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville lawmakers: Ban ‘conversion therapy’ in North Carolina