Broward Bans Conversion Therapy

Photo by John McDonald

The Broward County Commission unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy on minors.

Commissioners voted 8-0 at Tuesday’s meeting to make it illegal for licensed therapists to practice conversion or reparative therapy on minors. Broward County now joins Palm Beach County as the two Florida counties to ban conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is the practice of changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“For many many years this was thought of as a corrective process,” said Commissioner Barbara Sharief. “It’s about time we did take a stand that we are supportive of our LGBTQI youth. It is archaic, barbaric and needs to be stopped.”

Thirty people signed up to speak on the issue during the public hearing portion of the meeting with a vast majority voicing approval of the ordinance.

“Not only is it negligent and untruthful to tell anyone that their identity can be changed, more importantly it is unjustifiable and cruel to promote the idea that it needs to be or should be,” said Jessica Gottsleben, a Broward County resident and representative of the Trevor Project’s 50 Bills, 50 States project.

Eight states have outlawed conversion therapy on minors. Michael Rajner, Vice Chair of Broward County’s Human Rights Board, called conversion therapy “a crock of you-know-what.” Rajner encouraged commissioners to act because “we don’t have the courage in Tallahassee to take this up.”

Therapist Robert Otto spoke against the ordinance saying it removes the opportunity for youth to come talk to him about unwanted or romantic feelings. Otto said the county has been put on notice by the Liberty Counsel and preempted by the state. He said the ordinance violates his first amendment rights.

Commissioner Mark Bogen said he was “outraged” by Otto’s remarks, adding “people claiming to be doing therapy don’t know what they are doing.”

Rajner said there is nothing voluntary about conversion therapy.

“These youth are given an ultimatum and threatened to be cast aside,” Rajner said.

Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the lone Republican on the commission, asked county attorney Andrew Meyers for his opinion before the vote. Meyers said the county was not “risk free” and aware of challenges but similar laws have been upheld in the Ninth and 11th U.S. circuit courts.

LaMarca eventually voted for the ordinance, prompting commissioner Tim Ryan to remark, “you’ve been in political conversion since I’ve been here.”

LaMarca said it was a tough decision. “Try being a Republican in Broward County that supports his gay friends,” he said.

“It’s very clear to me that this is good policy,” Ryan said.

Stratton Pollitzer, Deputy Director of Equality Florida, said the threat of a lawsuit from the Liberty Counsel is “nothing to fear.”

“This is not a civil rights issue,” Pollitzer said. “This is about licensed therapists lying to their patients and scaring them. Conversion therapy is a deceptive and utterly discredited practice that targets minors against their will. What we are talking about is a matter of survival.”

Commissioner Dale Holness said he was glad to see the process play out in a public hearing – broadcast live over the internet.

“This is the democratic process at work, listening to all sides,” Holness said. “This is in the best interest of our community.”

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