Judge Strikes Down Tampa’s Conversion Therapy Ban

Tampa Pride 2018. Photo by Russ Martin

(WM) U.S. District Judge William Jung issued a ruling Oct. 4 striking down Tampa’s ban on the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy purports to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is widely opposed by prominent health associations including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.

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Studies have shown that the practice can lead to depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior including suicide and fractured families. Tampa’s ban was designed to protect youth from exposure to its serious risks and was signed into law in April 2017.

The anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel subsequently filed suit against the city, citing a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In Jan. 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm Carlton Fields filed a motion on behalf of Equality Florida to defend the ban.

“Substantive regulation of psychotherapy is a state, not a municipal concern,” Jung wrote in his Oct. 4 ruling.

“This is a harmful decision that puts some of our most vulnerable young people at risk,” Equality Florida’s Director of Public Policy Jon Harris Maurer said in a statement. “The decision for Tampa stands completely alone in its reasoning.

“Regardless of this decision, experts agree that conversion therapy is a dangerous and sometimes deadly practice, and we know it is still routinely practiced on children and teens in Florida,” he continued. “We support the City of Tampa’s leadership in protecting minors, and the Florida Legislature can and should also act immediately to protect children from this fraudulent practice.”

“Regulating health care is above the pay grade of local municipalities,” Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver said in a statement. “This ruling dooms every municipality in Florida and is the beginning of the end of more than 50 similar local laws around the country.”

“No child should endure this form of child abuse,” Mauer also said. “Today’s decision doesn’t change the fact that this archaic, traumatizing and fraudulent practice needs to be ended forever. Our local governments are acting where our state legislature has failed to protect young Floridians being subjected to conversion therapy.”

The federal Ninth and Third Circuit courts have previously upheld conversion therapy bans in California and New Jersey. Prior to her election, Mayor Jane Castor—Tampa’s 59th and first openly LGBTQ mayor—told Watermark that she would support LGBTQ youth should the ban be challenged.

“If portions of any of these ordinances or laws are struck down, then I will champion the equal treatment as a community,” Castor said. “You shouldn’t have to have an ordinance that tells you do to the right thing, so that would be my mantra to the community—we’ve always been inclusive.”