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Whitmer: No public funds will be used for conversion therapy in Michigan

gay pride parade
Supporters of the ban say there is some hope the legislature will move forward with such a proposal, since earlier this month, the Michigan Senate passed for the first time a resolution designating June as Pride Month. (naeim/Pixabay)

LANSING—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Monday that will bar state or federal funds to be used for so-called conversion therapy in Michigan.

Whitmer’s order comes in the middle of Pride Month and was signed at the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, a nonprofit organization that serves LGBTQ+ youth.

“As we celebrate Pride Month, we are not only marching — we are taking tangible action to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ Michiganders,” Whitmer said. “Today we are taking a step forward, ending the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy on minors in Michigan.”

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According to  the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), conversion therapy is the intervention to change “same-sex attractions or an individual’s gender expression with the specific aim to promote heterosexuality as a preferable outcome.”

The nation’s top mental health and medical associations oppose the practice, saying it is associated with depression, and puts youth at risk of suicide. 

Whitmer’s executive order directs the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit the use of state and federal funds — such as Medicaid, MIChild, child welfare services, and juvenile justice programs — to pay or reimburse therapists for the use of conversion therapy on minors.

Armory Robinson, a therapist at the Ruth Ellis Center, said the new executive order sends “a powerful message of care and appreciation for LGBT and non-binary citizens of all ages in all races.”

Robinson said trying to change someone’s sexual orientation can lead to psychological damage to those who identify as LGBTQ. She emphasized that homosexuality is not a disorder.

“By signing this document, the youth of Michigan can be assured that their mental health is a top priority, that they have access to life sustaining protections, support and services that affirm who they are, including those who are exploring who they are,” Robinson said.

But while the measure prohibits government funding, it does not ban the practice statewide. Whitmer said she wants conversion therapies to be outlawed, but said she can’t do that without the legislature drafting a measure that bans them.

At least 20 states have banned conversion therapies. Six Michigan cities— Berkley, East Lansing, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Madison Heights, and Royal Oak— have done the same.

In the past, Democratic efforts to ban the practice in the state have failed in the legislature.

But this year, a similar proposal has a Republican co-sponsor in the Senate: Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

Schmidt declined comment Monday. But Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said having a Republican on board adds to the push he says the state is experiencing regarding LGBTQ protections. The GOP holds majorities in both state legislative chambers. 

“So, progress is slow, and it gets very frustrating, but the momentum is on our side,” Moss, the first openly gay member in the Michigan Senate, told Bridge Michigan Monday. “We get more and more support, year after year after year…and we will continue to press to find more Republicans.”

The measure to ban conversion therapies has yet to be scheduled for a hearing, and Moss said there is a possibility it doesn’t go anywhere.

But, he said, there is some hope of change: Earlier this month, the Senate passed for the first time a resolution designating June as Pride Month.

Moss said he wants the legislature to amend the state civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The law, signed in 1976, bans discrimination based on “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.” 

But it does not include sexual orientation and gender identity, which Moss and other Democrats want added as protected classes.

“The consequence of protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, in their employment, in publicly available services is that LGBTQ people will get to have a job, and stability in their work and not worry about eviction and it's going to drive Michigan's economy forward,” Moss said. “So, that’s what I'm looking forward to as the next logical progressive step here.”

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