Gus Kenworthy
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Wisconsin Governor Stands Against Conversion Therapy, for Trans Youth

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers opened Pride Month by signing three pro-LGBTQ+ executive orders, including one banning the use of state and federal funds for conversion therapy on minors.

Evers’s order, which he described as preventive, “requires the Department of Health Services, Department of Corrections, and the Department of Children and Families to take appropriate steps to expressly disallow payment of state and federal funds allocated by their respective agencies for conversion therapy for minors,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

It’s not clear if such funding has ever been used for this purpose, but “we want to make sure if it has happened, it doesn’t happen again,” Evers, a Democrat, said at a Tuesday press conference, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Wisconsin lawmakers have been debating conversion therapy, which is designed to turn LGBTQ+ people straight and cisgender. Every major health organization in the U.S. considers the practice not only ineffective but harmful. Last year the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Standards adopted a rule that would have prohibited such therapy; because it’s part of the rulemaking process, it didn’t need approval from the legislature or governor.

But this year Republican members of both the Wisconsin House and Senate introduced bills to block the rule and referred them to committees, actions that keep it from going into effect during the 2021-2022 legislative session. Democratic lawmakers have responded with bills to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors, and those have been referred to committees as well.

“This legislation should not be controversial,” Democratic Rep. Lee Snodgrass, who is sponsoring the House version of the ban, said earlier this year, the Wisconsin Examiner reports. “We must take a stand against this abusive practice by protecting Wisconsin’s children.”

Twenty states and dozens of cities and counties have banned the use of conversion therapy on minors. In Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Madison, and several smaller cities have done so.

Evers Tuesday also signed orders directing cabinet agencies to use gender-neutral language whenever possible in external documents and mandating the display of the Pride flag at the state capitol this month. The latter order authorizes state buildings and local governments in Wisconsin to fly the flag as well.

At the press conference, Evers pledged to veto any bill excluding transgender student athletes from competing under their gender identity in school sports. Wisconsin lawmakers are currently debating such legislation.

“I very seldom weigh in on bills before they reach my desk, but I can tell you one thing for sure,” he said, according to the Journal Sentinel. “As governor I will veto any bill that’s going to negatively impact our kids. Period.”

In contrast, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, opened Pride Month Tuesday by signing such a bill into law. Some governors have vetoed similar legislation, however. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, both vetoed such bills. Burgum cited concern over “unforeseen consequences.” But governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, and West Virginia have signed bills to this effect during the 2021 session, and South Dakota's governor issued executive orders with similar language. Idaho adopted a trans-exclusionary sports law last year, but it’s been blocked from going into effect while it’s being challenged in court.

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