In the midst of the storm of the century, the City of Oakland Park moved ahead with plans to ban conversion therapy.
At a recent meeting commissioners approved the drafting of an ordinance that would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy within the boundaries of this eastern Broward County municipality. Several residents spoke in favor of the ban, some offering personal accounts of the harmful nature of the so-called “therapy.”
“Conversion therapy is part of the system of homophobia which starts with the premise that being gay or lesbian is something to change,” said Mitchell Rosenwald, a licensed clinical social worker for the State of Florida.
Rosenwald, a gay man, said conversion therapy – also known as reparative therapy – has been debunked by every major American scientific organization. The American Psychological Association reports conversion therapy efforts “have serious potential harm to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”
Rabbi Noah Kitty of Congregation Etz Chaim, a LGBT inclusive synagogue, implored the city to act to protect its children.
“When parents fail children it’s up to elected officials to step in,” Kitty said.
Michael Rajner, a Broward County human rights activist, called conversion therapy “evil witchcraft.”
“Our youth should not be preyed upon,” Rajner said.
One woman, Rebecca Zucker, spoke against the ban.
“There’s a parent side of this,” Zucker said. “I’m a grandparent. I have boys and girls. I would not want to see a city take my rights away. I understand the point. I respect the LGBT community. I have LGBT friends. I have family, but I would never go to a community and say put a limit on something and tell someone they are wrong.”
Zucker said she has lived in Oakland Park for three years having moved from the midwest where she worked as a real estate agent. She said the ban on “sexual orientation change” was contrary to the spirit of love the city should convey.
“By putting restraints on others choices we are doing the same to them it’s just a reverse model,” Zucker told the commission.
Oakland Park Mayor John Adornato III and Commissioners Tim Lonergan, Michael Carn and Matthew Sparks attended the meeting. Commissioner Sara Guevrekian was absent. Adornato said he asked for public comments after reading of other cities banning conversion therapy.
“As one of the more highly populated LGBT communities in Florida and perhaps the country we need to respect our residents and respect our youth and provide leadership for them and send the right message that respect for our children is critical,” Adornato said.
Commissioner Sparks, a gay man, said his parents sent him to conversion therapy and it did not work.
“Once was enough for me,” Sparks said. “I’m absolutely in favor of this, let’s ban it.”
Commissioner Carn called conversion therapy “a form of hate.”
“Who are you to control who I am or who I suggest I am?,” Carn said.
Vice Mayor Lonergan said he considers conversion therapy a harmful practice and strongly supports the ban. He suggested the ban also cover adult individuals with disabilities who have a legal guardian.