(SS) Licensed professionals who attempt to “convert” young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are increasingly unwelcome in South Florida.
Cities one by one are outlawing conversion therapy on minors.
Oakland Park will be the latest to do so if it gives a final approval to a new law Wednesday evening.
Boca Raton banned the practice on Tuesday. Palm Beach County is expected to consider it in November. Miami and Miami Beach banned it. So have Wilton Manors, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Tampa and Key West, among others.
“As a gay man, I want to do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable LGBT youth,” Oakland Park Mayor John Adornato said.
Conversion therapy is defined as therapy whose goal is to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Wilton Manors Commissioner Justin Flippen said he underwent two years of conversion therapy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church when he was in high school.
He had supportive parents, he said, but he was raised “very religious Southern Baptist,” and wrestled with conflicts between the teachings of the church and his feelings.
“I feel that being gay was part of who I was, but this church was telling me, ‘No, you’re choosing this like you choose beef or chicken at dinner.’ It was really tough on me,” Flippen said. “I saw a lot of people struggle.”
The practice has been widely discredited in the country, with mental-health organizations saying it’s ineffective and can be harmful.
The American Medical Association has a policy opposing “the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The American Psychological Association advises people to “avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder.”
In Palm Beach County, the Human Rights Council has been working to get the law enacted in as many cities as it can, calling conversion therapy “extremely dangerous.”
The law Oakland Park is considering still allows a pastor or parent to counsel a child. But licensed professionals would face fines up to $500 for practicing conversion therapy on minors.
The sweep of new laws pits LGBT activists against groups like the Christian Family Coalition, who helped defeat the measure at the Miami-Dade County Commission in early October. The proposed law there wasn’t originally clear about how the law would apply in homes and churches.
“The ban would have prohibited parents, pastors and doctors from counseling minors to help them reduce and eliminate unwanted homosexual urges and transsexual confusion,” the Christian Family Coalition announced on its Facebook page.
The organization National Taskforce for Therapy Equality also opposes the bans.
In a letter to Oakland Park, the group says proponents have distorted information, leading eight states and numerous cities to pass the anti-conversion-therapy ordinances.
The task force co-chairman, Christopher J. Doyle, said in the letter to Oakland Park that scientists have not proven that “people are born gay,” and said young people with same-sex attraction deserve access to professionals to help them “understand the medical and psychological risks associated with homosexual and transgender behavior.”
That’s the sort of experience Dr. Jack Doren, a retired clinical psychologist, said he wants to protect young gay people from.
Doren, who lives in Oakland Park, was 14 when he told his parents he was gay.
His parents sent him to a psychologist. They thought they were doing what was best for him, he said.
“The basic message was that I should be straight,” Doren said. “They thought it was an illness, so they sent me to a doctor to be cured.”
Doren said such treatment is damaging, and one reason for the laws is to educate parents, who might not know what to do.
“I’m trying to spare young kids from the message that they’re bad or wrong or sick for who they are,” he said. “That has led in so many cases to drugs and suicide. And at best a lot of pain.”
Doren worked in recent years with state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, in an attempt to get a statewide ban on conversion therapy for minors. In the Florida Senate, legislation was introduced by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis. But the bills have not gotten traction.
The wave of new laws comes amid a cultural shift in the country that saw gay marriage legalized.
Adornato warned, though, that the advances in LGBT rights also produced a backlash against gay people that is “akin to racism.”
He said the passing of laws like bans on conversion therapy have a symbolic element, sending a message to gay young people in other communities.
“There are children in communities that are not Oakland Park, Wilton Manors, New York or San Francisco that need to know that they’re OK.”