The Lake Worth City Commission brought conversion therapy to the table at their Dec. 13 meeting, a vote that was possible thanks to the efforts of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
The Commission, comprised of Vice Mayor Andy Amoroso, Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell, Mayor Pam Triolo, and Commissioners Ryan Maier and Christopher McVoy, voted unanimously to ban the practice of conversion therapy on children throughout the city.
“We’ve done what we can do to prevent this from happening to kids in our city,” Rand Hoch, retired president and founder of the PBCHRC said in an interview with SFGN. “And that’s the beauty of it.”
The vote was the product of human rights organizations working with local politicians to shed light on the issue of conversion therapy, also known as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE.)
“The commissioners got applause for enacting [the ban],” Hoch said. “The citizens who up for other reasons, some of the citizens are gays and lesbians, but I’ve never been to a commission meeting where people have applauded for something like this.”
Related: West Palm Bans Conversion Therapy
The diverse group of commissioners — including a republican mayor and two openly gay commissioners — unanimously agreed on banning the practice due to the dangerous effects it can have of LGBT youth.
“Conversion therapy is usually forced on minors by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian,” said Attorney Trent Steele. Steel is a member of the PBCHRC Board of Directors. “This so-called ‘treatment’ is extremely harmful.”
Psychologist Rachel Needle, who works with former conversion therapy patients, was brought in to testify during a similar vote in the city of West Palm Beach. Needle testified that SOCE practices are dangerous and outdated.
“Any effort to change sexual orientation — because it is not a disorder — is inherently invalid,” Needle said in a phone call. “Studies have shown that any attempt to change sexual orientation lead to a number of mental health issues in a minor: shame, guilt, depression, decreased self-esteem, self-hatred and others. So, attempting to change sexual orientation or gender identification can have a devastating impact on minors.”
Groups like PBCHRC, in conjunction with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, have focused on banning these practices at the local level in Florida. States such as Oregon, California, Vermont and others have banned conversion therapy statewide.
However, according to Hoch, pro-LGBT legislation rarely finds its way out of Tallahassee, where conservatives dominate the legislature.
“The big problem we have here in Florida is that we can’t get any pro-LGBT legislation out of Tallahassee,” Hoch said over the phone. “There hasn’t been anything significant since 1991. That’s why groups like SAVE and PBCHRC are taking the initiative to do that at the state and county level.”
“We need to build up momentum before we reach up to the county level,” he continued.
So far in Florida, West Palm Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands and North Bay Village have enacted similar bans on conversion therapy.
The ban applies only to state-licensed therapists, according to the press release. Unlicensed therapists who practice under faith-based groups maintain their religious freedom and are permitted to continue their practice without state recognition. The ban also only applies to children; adults are still free to seek out conversion therapy.
According to Scott McCoy, the Senior Policy Council for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the feedback for the ban has been largely positive.
“[It is] gratifying to see everybody come together in our super divided political environment nowadays,” McCoy said in an interview. “For the most part these bans have been passing with broad support. The opposed tend to be the fringe, flat-earthers who cling to the idea that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured.”
“The city commission took a step in the right direction by approving this ordinance to ban this harmful practice on minors,” McCoy said in a press release. “The commission has sent a message to LGBTQ youth: ‘You are perfect the way you are and do not need to be ‘fixed.’”
The SPLC, NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign (not affiliated with the PBCHRC) have filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission with the hopes of banning conversion therapy nationwide.
In Florida, state senator Jeff Clemens (D) introduced a bill to prohibit the statewide practice of conversion therapy in 2016, but the Senate refused to take any action. Clemens plans to reintroduce the bill in 2017.
“While we wait to see if Florida’s legislative leaders will even schedule a hearing on Senator Clemen’s bill, the city of Lake Worth will take action now to protect LGBT youth.” Vice Mayor Amoroso said in a press release.