Oakland Park is poised to be the next South Florida city to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors, with the City Commission agreeing to take up the discussion on whether or not to pursue the issue as an ordinance on September 6.
Conversion therapy is the attempt to change someone's gender identity or sexual orientation — usually from gay, bi or transgender to straight or cisgender — using a number of questionable therapeutic methods. The practice has been labelled ineffective by the American Psychological Association, and is being combated by many LGBT groups.
In South Florida, the combined efforts of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center and The National Center for Lesbian Rights have helped to ban conversion therapy in a number of cities including Wilton Manors, Delray Beach, Wellington, Boynton Beach and many others.
As it stands, the upcoming commission discussion on Sept. 6 could mark Oakland Park as the next city to enact the ban.
While conversion therapy has little proof of its effectiveness in “fixing” or altering the sexual orientation or gender identity of patients, the therapeutic practice has been found to lead to a number of side effects which include, according to PBCHRC therapist Rachel Needle, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, trouble with intimacy, and suicide.
“I will fight to protect our LGBTQ youth. I hope our Oakland Park City Commission can take a stand for our LGBTQ youth by banning this practice,” Oakland Park Mayor John Adornato wrote in an email. “We must send the correct message to our youth to try to curb the high rate of suicides.”
Most of the cities in South Florida were able to pass conversion therapy bans without significant opposition. This changed, however, when Dr. Julia Hamilton, former president of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH) and licensed family therapist Dr. David Pickup gave testimonies to the Wellington City Council against banning such a practice.
“Sponsors of this ban are asking to make it illegal for therapists and clients to have [conversations] about change of attractions, behavior, or identity,” Hamilton wrote to SFGN. “Making it illegal for certain conversations to take place would certainly constitute a violation of freedom of speech. Even if you do not like the idea of some teenagers wanting to pursue options for their lives rather than embrace a gay identity, everyone in America should be greatly concerned when lawmakers consider taking away freedom of speech.”
Despite the opposition, the Wellington Council ultimately voted to ban conversion therapy. Now, however, conservative groups National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) and the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity have stepped up opposition, pursuing investigations against LGBT groups involved in banning conversion therapy and submitting a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and sending a list of letters and reports to the Oakland Park City Commission.
Christopher Doyle, the leader of NTFTE is also known for running the group “Voice of the Voiceless,” a group defending the rights of former homosexuals that hosted an ex-gay pride in 2013.
“We have suffered enough abuse in the media who sing praises to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and condemn former homosexuals and those who experience unwanted [same sex attraction],” the Voice for the Voiceless website Oaklreads.
According to Rand Hoch, president of PBCHRC, NTFTE has sent similar letters to many of the other cities pursuing conversion therapy bans, including Welling and Greenacres. These letters, he states, rely on false science and bad law.
Many of the anti-ban arguments focus on freedom of speech and choice, stating that keeping conversion therapy legal would be at the best interests for children with unwanted sexual attractions and their parents.
“Minors are frequently forced into conversion therapy by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian,” PBCHRC Vice President Carly Cass said. “This so-called therapy has been often shown to be extremely harmful.”