Minor Rights, Major Movement: Conversion Therapy Bans Sweep Florida

Over the past few years, city commissioners, county commissioners and human rights groups have come together to ban conversion therapy on minors — the protections for LGBT youth spreading city by city, and eventually reaching a county level with the recently passed Palm Beach County ban.

The Palm Beach County ban “covers people studying conversion therapy as well,” Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council told SFGN. “The language of our ban is different than the others have been … they cannot perform conversion therapy while pursuing their license, making this the most expansive ban yet in Florida.”

The end of 2017 ended on a quite a high note for Rand Hoch and PBCHRC with the passage of the county ban. With surgical precision the organization passed similar bans in city after city in throughout the county since 2016. In total they were able to get 8 city bans passed from the county’s major cities of West Palm Beach and Boca Raton to smaller municipalities like Greenacres and Riviera Beach.

Conversion therapy is a term encompassing a number of harmful therapeutic and psychological practices aimed at changing, or “fixing” the sexuality or gender identity of an LGBT child. The practice has been condemned by a number of psychological and medical groups due to its ineffectiveness and slew of harmful effects such as depression, intimacy issues and even an increase in suicide rates.

Outside of Palm Beach County, Key West, Wilton Manors, Oakland Park and other municipalities have also enacted bans. But on a county level Palm Beach was the first. Miami-Dade attempted to pass a ban in October but the commission rejected it 7-4. It the biggest set back for the growing movement to ban conversion therapy on minors. Broward County will vote on Tuesday. With the majority of county commissioners supporting the ban, it’s expected to pass.

While the local campaigns have mostly been successful, the same cannot be said for bans at the state level. Several attempts at banning conversion therapy throughout the state of Florida have been made in the Florida legislature, though no action has been taken. Bills were introduced to ban conversion therapy for minors in 2016 and 2017 in Tallahassee, but were never heard.

“We need to change the people who are elected to the state legislature and to the state office,” Broward County commissioner Nan Rich told SFGN. “The makeup of the current legislature I think would not pass [a statewide ban]. I’m hoping for a sweep in 2018, it would be nice to be able say that Florida could join New Jersey, California and other states who have done this on a statewide basis.”

Although the ban has been unable to pass at state level, a recent Gravis Marketing poll of Florida voters found that 69 percent of voters think conversion therapy should be illegal, while only 11 percent think it should remain legal.

With a state ban out of the question, advocacy groups such as the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have taken the initiative to pursue bans at the city — and now county — level.

“I am hoping that municipalities and counties with large LGBTQ populations will take a look at this and say ‘we can do this here too,’” Hoch said. “At a local level, if you can get your political ducks in line you can do this too and protect the kids.”

The Broward County ban is being led by Nan Rich. Eight of nine commissioners have asked to be co-sponsors.

“I really think the vote will be unanimous,” Rich said. “Our commission really understands the issue and is very supportive of an ordinance prohibiting this type of therapy.”

Rich continued, “I’m glad to be able to do something that can protect the physical and psychological well-being of minors — especially LGBTQ youth — from exposure to harm caused by conversion therapy … if you read the research, conversion therapy is really damaging; dangerous and damaging.”

Beyond preventing children from exposure to conversion therapy in state licensed offices, the bans send an important message to children and their parents.

“All of the publicity that is going out is educating people that this is going on, and there are certain parents that don’t love their children the way they are, and more and more people are saying that isn’t right,” Hoch said. “That’s one of the most important things I’ve seen coming out of the conversion therapy movement apart from the bans themselves.” 

In the absence of conversion therapy there are affirming therapies that help LGBT youth come to terms with their sexuality, deal with bullying and depressive thoughts and more. Hoch recommends that parents also pursue therapy themselves to help deal with the reality that their children will grow up differently than they expected.

PBCHRC and other human rights groups are working to pass more bans with the help of local leaders, and are also trying to raise public awareness of the dangers of conversion therapy.

PBCHRC has resources and templates for anyone that wants to enact in their city or county. Gainesville will vote soon on a ban. That effort is being spearheaded by the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida and its president Bob Karp.  

“We’ve done all the homework, SAVE has done all the homework, and I was contacted by Bob from Gainesville and I sent him eight pages of research that we’ve already done,” Hoch said. “We have all the resources to back everybody up, those who want [to pass a ban] just need to have their political ducks in line.”

Hoch continued: “So all it takes is one activist to say ‘I can do this’ … we have all the materials, we just need one individual, one activist who can convince their city council that this is the right thing to do, we can help with the rest.”

Here’s a list of all of the cities in Florida that have enacted bans on conversion therapy for minors thus far: Tampa, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Riviera Beach, Boynton Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal, Key West, Wellington, Greenacres, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Oakland Park.