Conversion Therapy Ban Should Be Enacted By County, State

A year ago, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council pushed for the Palm Beach County Commission to take up the issue of banning “conversion therapy” for minors, the controversial practice in which therapists attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Palm Beach County had the opportunity to be the first county in Florida to ban conversion therapy for people under the age of 18. But thus far, the commissioners have dropped the ball on creating a county umbrella policy banning the measure outright, so HRC President Rand Hoch has decided to go door-to-door (or, rather, municipality-to-municipality) to get local leaders to do what the county has not accomplished over the past 12 months.

This week, Wellington took a major step toward joining West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Riviera Beach in enacting such a ban when the Wellington Village Council voted 4-1, with Mayor Anne Gerwig dissenting, to pass the first reading of a conversion therapy ban for minors. The ban would stop the practice by licensed mental health professionals within village boundaries.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy refers to psychotherapy aimed at eliminating homosexual desires and is used by people who do not think homosexuality is a variation within human sexual orientation, but rather still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder. The APA, along with other professional groups, has concluded that trying to change someone’s sexual orientation can cause depression, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

When the APA published the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose psychiatric disorders) in 1952, homosexuality was defined as a psychiatric disorder. Although there was no scientific evidence to support the diagnosis, it remained in the DSM until 1973. Since then, the APA has held that being gay or lesbian is not a psychiatric disorder, but rather a normal expression of human sexuality.

California was the first state to outright ban conversion therapy in 2013. Many religious legal organizations, representing individual parents, children and therapists, argued that the law violated therapists’ free expression and parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children. Since then, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, D.C. have passed laws banning licensed mental health providers from offering the practice to children. As with Wellington’s ban, those over the age of 18 are still able to seek out conversion therapy.

As part of a lengthy discussion Tuesday, Gerwig said she was bothered that the ordinance would prohibit licensed professionals from practicing conversion therapy to minors, but not unlicensed youth counselors. Under current Florida law, this is accurate. Although the Wellington ordinance would ban the practice by licensed professionals, by state regulation, it will not ban its use by religious leaders who are not also mental health professionals and other non-professional groups.

For the past two legislative sessions, State Sen. Jeff Clemens has introduced legislation to prohibit conversion therapy statewide. However, the legislature has not taken action on the bills. Clemens intends to reintroduce the bill in the 2018 legislative session. We are glad to see Wellington enact this ban and urge both the county and the state to ban the practice.