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Governor moves to block conversion therapy funds

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s state health department is barred from allowing public funds to pay for conversion therapy for minors, a controversial practice aimed at changing young LGBTQ people’s sexual orientations, under an order signed Friday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Advocacy groups praised the Democratic governor’s executive order as a pioneering step to restrict the therapy in the U.S. South.

Cooper’s order forbids funds controlled by executive branch agencies from paying for such therapy for minors. That includes state and federal money for the state’s Medicaid program and NC Health Choice insurance for children in low- and middle-income families.

The governor’s order defines conversion therapy as practices meant to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to stifle certain behaviors or reduce romantic feelings toward the same sex.

“Conversion therapy has been shown to pose serious health risks, and we should be protecting all of our children, including those who identify as LGBTQ, instead of subjecting them to a dangerous practice,” the governor’s office said in a tweet.

Eighteen states have enacted laws banning or restricting the practice that’s opposed by the American Psychological Association, though none are in the South, according to advocacy groups that track the issue.

Similar legislation was introduced in both of North Carolina’s legislative chambers this year, but it hasn’t advanced since being referred to legislative committees in April.

Equality NC and the Campaign for Southern Equality, which have advocated for the North Carolina legislation, praised Cooper’s action as a significant step forward in the South.

“No child should be told that they must change their sexual orientation or gender identity; we’re grateful that Gov. Cooper agrees,” Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said in a statement. “We are committed to ending this debunked practice and will work for statewide protections.”

Cooper’s order comes less than two weeks after a federal judge approved a legal settlement affirming transgender people’s right to use restrooms matching their gender identity in many North Carolina public buildings. The consent decree between Cooper and transgender plaintiffs, who sued over the state’s “bathroom bill” and its replacement, covers state-owned buildings run by executive branch agencies.

Cold case arrest: Surry man charged in 1980 rape and killing of 14-year-old girl

A 62-year-old Surry County man was arrested Friday on charges of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl nearly 40 years ago this month. The man was taken into custody a year to the day the girl’s mother died.

Surry County sheriff’s deputies arrested Robert James Adkins of the 1500 block of Fisher Valley Road in Dobson and charged him with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape of Ronda Mechelle Blaylock in August 1980, according to the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. He is being held in the Surry County jail without bond. It was not immediately clear whether a court date has been set in Surry District Court.

Blaylock was a ninth-grader at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem. She vanished around 3:15 p.m. Aug. 26, 1980. She and a friend had been given a ride by a man who identified himself as “Jimmy,” authorities have said. “Jimmy” told the girls that everyone called him “Butch.” He was described as a man in either his late teens or early 20s. He was tall, weighed about 165 pounds and had straight brownish hair feathered on the side and light facial hair. He listened to rock stations, smoked cigarettes and drove a 1970s model truck that witnesses said was immaculate.

The word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel, authorities have said.

According to law-enforcement accounts, the man took Blaylock’s friend to her house, unharmed, and left with Blaylock in the passenger seat.

Her parents, Charles and Rebecca Blaylock, reported their daughter missing the same day.

Three days later, Blaylock’s partially clothed body was found in the woods off Secrest Road in Surry County, a few yards from the Stokes County line and 18 miles from where she was last seen in Rural Hall. A medical examiner said she died from multiple stab wounds.

The Surry County Sheriff’s Office did not provide any further information about what new evidence led them to Adkins. Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Surry County Judicial Center in Dobson.

Kevin Thomas, a cousin of Ronda Blaylock, said Friday that the family is shocked that the arrest happened on the one-year anniversary of the death of Blaylock’s mother. Her father died in 2012. That same year, Blaylock’s grandmother Katherine Crews died. A year later, her grandfather Ralph Crews died.

Thomas’ mother, Vicky Thomas, is Ronda Blaylock aunt. Thomas said his mother had been thinking about her sister all week as well as Ronda. Then the news of the arrest came, and “lives were shattered all over again,” he said.

Thomas’ sister called him while he was working out at the gym. He said when he heard the news, he didn’t know what to say or do for a brief moment. Then, he said, he knew he had to get to his mother.

“I was 2 years old when it happened,” he said. “All I know when growing up was it was a non-talked about issue. It wasn’t until I was older that I was told what happened.”

In 2015, then-Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson announced the formation of the Ronda Blaylock Homicide Task Force to investigate new leads in the case. The State Crime Lab was testing evidence, including DNA, using technology that was not available in 1980.

The task force is made up of the State Bureau of Investigation, the sheriff’s offices in Forsyth, Stokes and Surry counties, and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.

Hiatt said in a statement that many current and retired agents and officers from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, the SBI, the State Crime Lab, the State Bureau Cold Case Unit, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office helped with the investigation.

In a video provided by authorities in 2015, Rebecca Blaylock said she wanted whoever responsible for her daughter’s death to spend the rest of their life in prison.

“I’ve been in prison, so to speak, for 35 years,” she said in the video. “I want them to know how it feels not to have your freedom, you know.”

She said her daughter never had the chance to graduate from high school and college, get married or have children.

“People ask me, ‘How many grandchildren do you have,’” she said. “And I say, ‘I don’t have any grandchildren because I don’t have any children.’”

Thomas said the arrest has brought back a lot of feelings about Blaylock’s death. The family often wondered whether there would ever be closure.

“Today, we are one step closer,” he said.

Surry County Sheriff  

Robert J. Adkins of Dobson is charged with rape and murder 40 years after a Winston-Salem teen disappeared.

Governor signs bill banning female genital mutilation in N.C.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Thursday a state Senate bill that bans female genital mutilation in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 9 was filed by state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, on Jan. 31. The law goes into effect Oct. 1.

The bill was approved by the Senate by a 46-0 vote March 25 and the House by a 116-0 vote July 16. The Senate agreed July 22 to a minor change made by the House by a 45-0 vote.

“I’m relieved to know that North Carolina will be among the states that have taken this step to protect young girls,” Krawiec said. “This law sends the message that we are serious about protecting our young girls from the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation.”

The practice is done in parts of India and northern and southern Africa. It’s unclear how many of such procedures are done in North Carolina.

North Carolina becomes the 35th state to make performing FGM a criminal offense in 34 states. It is banned in 59 countries and considered a human-rights violation by the World Health Organization.

However, a federal law banning the act was struck down by a federal court in Michigan, which said states should decide what they want to permit.

Krawiec said the federal court ruling could lead people to bring underage girls to North Carolina to have the procedure done without fear of facing a felony.

The bill would make it a Class C felony — with a 44- to 182-month prison sentence.

According to a Brigham and Women’s Hospital report, 4,287 girls and women, including 973 under age 18, in North Carolina come from families who immigrated here from countries that follow the practice. The report says those girls and women could be at risk of having female genital mutilation performed on them.

When asked about the prevalence of female genital mutilation in North Carolina, or what counties are affected in particular, Krawiec has said she is not aware of any specific data for the state.

“We just want to make sure it never happens in North Carolina,” she said.

According to an NPR report, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled in November that Congress “overstepped its bounds” in prohibiting the practice in 1996.

Friedman said FGM is a “local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.”

The ruling dismissed charges of FGM and conspiracy against two Michigan doctors accused of cutting at least nine girls.

The defendants are members of the Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community, which practices a form of FGM as a religious rite of passage.

Krawiec’s bill creates a surgical exemption if FGM is performed as a necessary procedure by a state-licensed medical practitioner.

The bill states that it is not a legal defense to claim that FGM was performed as a requirement of custom or ritual. The bill also would not allow a defense that a female under age 18 had given permission to have the procedure.