Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Group threatens suit if Palm Beach County bans gay conversion therapy

WEST PALM BEACH — It’s called “conversion therapy.” Advocates of it, some of whom dismiss the term altogether, say it’s a legitimate way to help people — usually teens — rid themselves of “unwanted same sex attractions.”

Rights groups say it’s forced brainwashing that doesn’t work and harms people who didn’t need any conversion at all.

Now the Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group, is saying a planned Palm Beach County ban on such counseling for minors is unconstitutional and the group could well sue to block it.

On June 20, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which fights discrimination, especially against lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgenders, asked commissioners in Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach to ban “conversion therapy.”

Council founder and President Rand Hoch told commissioners the practice, also known as “reparative therapy,” is “based on the erroneous assumption” that LGBT identities “are mental disorders that can be cured through aversion treatment.”

The County Commission hasn’t yet placed the item on any agenda, Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron said this past week. County Attorney Denise Nieman said she hoped to have an opinion by the end of this week about whether a ban would survive a constitutional challenge. She did say that “there’s a number of areas of concern we have.”

Neither Bonlarron nor Nieman had a comment on the Liberty Counsel letter.

While the Liberty Counsel’s letter doesn’t say it outright, “we would consider a legal challenge,” if commissioners approve the ban, Mat Staver, an Orlando-based attorney for the group, told The Palm Beach Post.

In a letter to county commissioners, Staver said the county “has no authority to enact such an ordinance,” and even if it did, “any such ordinance would represent a blatant violation of the First Amendment’s most basic liberties.”

Liberty Counsel says it now is litigating several similar cases and has persuaded legislators in several states, including Florida, to reject state bans. Attempts in the Florida Legislature have stalled in committee.

“If the Liberty Counsel wants to come down and fight this, bring it on,” the Rights Council’s Hoch said last week from Philadelphia, where he was attending the Democratic National Convention. He said the county “absolutely” would withstand a legal challenge and that U.S. Supreme Court already has declined to hear challenges to similar bans.

After the Human Rights Council’s June 20 call for action, County Mayor Mary Lou Berger asked staff to research the idea.

On July 12, during public comment, the commission heard from Julie Hamilton, who said she was a local psychotherapist and former president of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity.

Hamilton said people “ a r e n o t simply born gay” and that some people can change their orientation. And she said a ban on therapy isn’t needed because therapists already are bound by various ethical rules. She said the proposed law would block help for teenagers “who are distressed by their unwanted (same sex) attraction. You are taking away hope from them.”

The Liberty Counsel letter quoted a 2014 American College of Pediatricians statement that “the scientific literature, however, is clear: Same-sex attractions are more fluid than fixed, specially for adolescents — many of whom can and do change.”

The legal threat by Liberty Counsel follows a note to commissioners from the National Task Force for Therapy Equality, based in Arlington, Va., near Washington. It says it represents “thousands of clients who formerly identify” as LGBT, as well as “tens of thousands of youth, parents and facilities who experience unwanted same-sex attractions.’

Task Force co-coordinator Christopher J. Doyle wrote that “activists labeling this counseling ‘conversion therapy’ are using scare tactics to silence youth, and their families, that seek help for sexual and gender and identify conflicts. I hope this body makes the right and fair decision to support all youth and respect the wide range and diversity of sexual values they hold.”

And commissioners heard from the South Florida Association of Christian Counselors, a group of 569 pastors, Christian leaders, and therapists and counselors, most in Palm Beach County; its board includes Palm Beach Atlantic University professor Henry Virkler. The coalition said individuals with what it calls distressing and conflicting same-sex attractions “have the right to obtain professional assistance for living a life that is incongruent with their faith, values and goals.”

Liberty Counsel says it’s a nonprofit group with offices in Orlando and Washington and in Lynchburg, Va., home of Liberty University, the evangelistic Christian college founded by Jerry Falwell. While it has no direct tie to the school, Staver is the former dean of its law school. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance
endorsements are based on:

  • How a candidate has voted on LGBT issues
  • How a candidate has supported the Palm Beach County LGBT Community
Please note that we have not made endorsements in every race
and not all of the listed candidates will appear on your ballot.  

          U.S. Senate - Patrick Murphy
          U.S. Congressman ((Dist. 18) - Randy Perkins
          Public Defender - Carey Haughwout           
          State Senator (Dist. 29) - Kevin Rader    
          State Senator (Dist. 30) - Michael Steinger
          State Senator (Dist. 31) - Jeff Clemens  
          State Representative (Dist. 82) - Mary W. Higgins
          State Senator (Dist. 31) -  Jeff Clemens 
          State Representative (Dist. 86) -Matt Willlhite
          State Representative (Dist. 87) - David Silvers          
          State Representative (Dist. 88) - Al Jacquet
          State Representative (Dist. 91) - Kelly Skidmore 
          County Commission - (Dist. 3) - Dave Kerner 
          County Commission - (Dist. 7) - Priscilla Taylor   
          Port of Palm Beach (Group 2) - Katherine Waldron    
          Port of Palm Beach (Group 3) - Jean L. Enright
          Circuit Court Judge (Group 1) -  Dina Keever 
          Circuit Court Judge (Group 4) - Gregory Tendrich
          Sheriff - Ric Bradshaw 

          County Court Judge (Group 7) -  Marni Bryson  
          County Court Judge (Group 11) -  Gregg Lerman  
          School Board (Dist. 1) - Ellen Baker  
          Property Appraiser -  Co-Endorsement                
                 Vote for one candidate, not both
                    Dorothy Jacks
OR Shelley Vana
          Supervisor of Elections - Susan Bucher
This paid electioneering communication, which is independent of any party, candidate or committee, is produced, sponsored and paid for by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

PBCHRC is well represented at the Democratic National Convention

On May 21, former PBCHRC Board Member Anne Gannon,
a longtime ally of the LGBT community who currently serves as the Constitutional Tax Collector for Palm Beach County and  
former PBCHRC Vice President and Board Member Deidre Newton, an out woman who serves as the Democratic State Committeewoman for Palm Beach County, were elected to  serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 

On the following day, PBCHRC Founder and President Rand Hoch, who served as Florida's first openly gay judge in the mid-1990s, was appointed by the Clinton campaign to serve on the Democratic Party's Platform Committee. 

Former Congressman Barney Frank with Rand Hoch and Deidre Newton 

Gannon, Newton and Hoch are longtime supporters of Hillary Clinton. Last November, Clinton was endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance. 

Rand Hoch presents Hillary Clinton with 
 the PBCHRC Voters Alliance endorsement letter
Over the years, the Democratic Party has relied on PBCHRC activists to help shape the party's platform. 

In 2004, then-PBCHRC Vice President Deidre Newton was tapped by John Kerry's presidential campaign to serve on the Platform Committee. 

PBCHRC research assistant Michael Ira Thayer was recruited by the Hillary Clinton campaign to serve on the Platform Committee in 2008.

Florida's 291 member delegation to the 2016 Democratic National Convention includes 246 delegate, 18 alternates and 9 members of each of the three standing committees: Platform Committee, Rules Committee and Credentials Committee. 
The Florida delegation includes 29 LGBT Democrats, including Florida Democratic Party First Vice Chair Alan Clendenin, who is running for Hillsborough County School Board and Broward County's Democratic State Committeeman Ken Evans.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

PBCHRC Voters Alliance endorsements (updated 8/10/16)

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance endorses candidates who support LGBT initiatives and privacy rights. Endorsements of candidates are made upon consideration of:

  • How a candidate has voted on LGBT issues
  • How a candidate has supported the Palm Beach County LGBT Community 

The following candidates have been endorsed by The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance for election (or re-election) in 2016:

President - Hillary Clinton
U.S. Senator - Patrick E. Murphy
U.S. Congressman (Dist. 18) - Randy Perkins
U.S. Congressman (Dist. 20) - Alcee Hastings
U.S. Congresswoman (Dist. 21) - Lois Frankel
U.S. Congressman (Dist. 22) - Ted Deutch

State Senator (Dist. 29) - Kevin Rader
State Senator (Dist. 31) - Jeff Clemens
State Representative (Dist 82) - Mary W. Higgins 

State Representative (Dist. 85) - Robert Simeone
State Representative (Dist 86) - Matt Willhite
State Representative (Dist 87) - David Silvers

State Representative (Dist 88) - Al Jacquet
State Representative (Dist 90) - Lori Berman
State Representative (Dist 91) - Kelly Skidmore
Public Defender - Carey Haughwout
Circuit Court Judge (Group 1) - Dina Keever
Circuit Court Judge (Group 4) - Gregory Tendrich

Sheriff - Ric Bradshaw 
Property Appraiser - CO-ENDORSEMENT

      Dorothy Jacks and Shelley Vana
Supervisor of Elections - Susan Bucher 

County Commission - (Dist. 3) - Dave Kerner
County Commissioner (Dist. 5) - Mary Lou Berger
County Commissioner (Dist. 7) - Priscilla Ann Taylor

School Board (Dist. 1) - Ellen Baker
County Court Judge (Group 7) - Marni Bryson
County Court Judge (Group 11) - Gregg Lerman

Port of Palm Beach (Group 2) - Katherine Waldron
Port of Palm Beach (Group 3) - Jean L. Enright

Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Group 3 - Patricia "Pat" Edmonson
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance has also made an endorsement regarding the following referendum question on the November 8, 2016 ballot.

       Amendment 2 (Medical Marijuana) - YES

The following candidates who have been endorsed by The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance were elected to hold office in 2016:

State Representative (Dist. 81) - Joseph Abruzzo
State Representative (Dist. 89) - Bill Hager
Clerk of the Circuit Court - Sharon Bock
State Attorney - Dave Aronberg
Tax Collector - Anne Gannon
School Board Member - Chuck Shaw
School Board Member - Frank Barbieri
Port Commissioner - Wayne Richards 
Boynton Beach Mayor Steven B. Grant
Lake Worth Mayor - Pam Triolo
Lake Worth City Commissioner (Dist. 1) - Scott Maxwell
Lake Worth City Commissioner (Dist. 3) - Andy Amoroso

Rivera Beach City Councilwoman (Dist. 3) - Tonya Davis Johnson 
Wellington Village Councilman (Seat 3) - John McGovern
Wellington Village Councilman (Seat 4) -  Michael Napoleone

West Palm Beach City Commissioner (Dist. 1) - Sylvia Moffett
West Palm Beach City Commissioner (Dist. 3) - Paula Ryan
West Palm Beach City Commissioner (Dist. 5) - Shanon Materio

This paid electioneering communication, which is independent of any party, candidate or committee, is produced, sponsored and paid for by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.
Post Office Box 267, West Palm Beach, Florida 33402

Sunday, July 17, 2016

West Palm Beach Offers Health Benefits to Transgender Employees

By Jess Swanson 

Broward-Palm Beach New Times
July 12, 2016

Four months after North Carolina lawmakers required transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificates, the City of West Palm Beach has announced that it will now make life a little easier for its transgender employees and their families.

Now the city's health insurance policy will cover gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, and other medical benefits. It is the first public employer in Palm Beach County and one of the first cities in Florida (after Miami Beach and St. Petersburg) to do so.

Rand Photo 2013
"The City of West Palm Beach is now one of the best places for LGBT people to live, go to school, work and retire," says Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County's Human Rights Council. "The beauty of it is that we don't have to do a whole lot of lobbying here; our leaders know this is the right thing to do."

After more than 100 anti-transgender laws were introduced this past legislative session, the City of West Palm Beach's new health insurance is its own triumph. After North Carolina and Mississippi passed anti-LGBT laws, West Palm Beach swiftly issued a travel ban to its employees for the both states.  The idea: send a message that it will not tolerate such bigotry. Even Wilton Manors, with the largest percentage of LGBT people on the East Coast, couldn't pass a similar motion expanding benefits to transgender employees at a commission meeting in April - even though more than a dozen residents took to the podium in support.

"Part of my true life story is finding employment and benefits that my child can medically have," Wilton Manors resident Deanna Muniz told commissioners in a heartfelt plea. "My child living as Alina had 100 percent medical benefits...when I found out my child was transgender, and living as Jake, he no longer had them, maybe 30 percent of those benefits."

Wilton Manors commissioner Julie Carson introduced the motion to include health benefits for transgender employees. Four months later, she is still surprised by the lack of support from her fellow commissioners. She believes the motion didn't pass because it would cost employees an extra $6 to $12 per month. (Currently, employees pay between $82 and $151 bi-weekly.)

"I'm so happy to know the [City of West Palm Beach was] able to do this," Carson says. "I still have a bitter taste in my mouth after the motion wasn't successful here. There was such opposition and disdain."

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio could not immediately respond to an interview request about the new health insurance and it's unclear if extra money will be deducted from employees's paychecks to cover the costs.

"Other companies have been doing this for years; it's not a huge cost item," Hoch explains. "There aren't that many people taking advantage of this benefit simply because it doesn't apply to them."

The benefits went into effect in West Palm Beach this past July 1.

According to the city's policy with Cigna, gender reassignment surgery and pre- and post-hormone therapy will be covered for any individual 18 years or older. However, preserving embryos or sperm and a long list of surgeries like breast augmentation, penile prostheses, and trachea shave are not considered medically necessary.

"It's good to see the City of West Palm Beach put their money where their mouth is," says Michael Rajner, who sits on the Broward County Human Rights Board and was a vocal supporter of Wilton Manor's plan. "It demonstrates what it means to be truly supportive of the LGBT community in its entirety." 

W. Palm Beach and Palm Beach County considering banning conversion therapy for LGBT children

June 21, 2016

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has asked the City of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County to ban conversion therapy.  West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger have directed their legal departments to research our request and to draft ordinances for consideration by the City and County Commissions.  PBCHRC is working closely with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) , which has had great success on these initiatives.

Check out excerpts from an article in today's Sun-Sentinel about the efforts with the County:


Palm Beach County considering a ban on conversion therapy for gay, lesbian children

By Skyler Swisher
Sun-Sentinel reporter
June 21, 2016

Palm Beach County could become one of the first communities in Florida to ban conversion therapy for children - a practice in which therapists attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said Tuesday she would support the ban if county legal staff determines it's within the County Commission's authority.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, an advocacy group, is pushing for county commissioners to take up the issue.

"It is still something licensed practitioners here in Florida can do," said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the council, which supports equal protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. "Other states have taken position this is not good medicine, not good psychology. This is actually harmful."

If successful, Palm Beach County would become the first county in Florida to ban conversion therapy for people under the age of 18.

Efforts to pass a ban at the state level have failed in the Florida Legislature, and Miami Beach is the only local government board to prohibit conversion therapy for minors, according to the group.
Gay teenagers have been told in counseling sessions they are not actually gay and can change. The therapy stresses being a true man or a feminine woman, playing up traditional gender notions.

Conversion therapists advertise online that they can "address unwanted same-sex attraction" and offer weekend retreats that offer "intensive emotional-healing work." One service advertises, "You'll stand eye to eye with another man while we help you process whatever feelings might arise."

Conversion therapy is not taught in accredited psychiatric or mental health training programs, and leading medical groups have denounced it, said Dr. Jack Drescher, a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and an expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Most practitioners are not licensed, and it is not in mainstream activity," he said. "If you want to learn conversion therapy, you have to learn it on the street."

The American Psychological Association has concluded trying to change someone's sexual orientation can cause depression, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

But the therapy is still offered under the radar - mostly by therapists affiliated with religious groups and people calling themselves "life coaches," Drescher said. Hoch said he's not aware of any licensed therapists in Palm Beach County offering conversion therapy, which is also known as reparative therapy.

Drescher said he views bans, such as the one Palm Beach County is considering, to be mostly symbolic because they are difficult to enforce. The measures do help to raise awareness about the issue, he said.

Conversion therapists have challenged bans unsuccessfully in federal court. They dispute that sexual orientation is innate and cannot be changed. They argue a person's sexual identity can be influenced by childhood trauma and can be changed with therapy.

Earlier this month, Miami Beach became the first governmental entity in Florida to prohibit the controversial counseling for anyone under the age of 18.

In Miami Beach, therapists who offer conversion therapy could be subject to a $200 fine each day they offer the counseling.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to children, according to Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy organization.

West Palm Beach Strengthens Law Prohibiting Discrimination by City Contractors

July 5, 2016

At this evening's meeting, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously voted to amend the city's procurement code to require contractors doing business with the city to expressly prohibit  discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The ordinance also covers other protected classes, including race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and marital status.

The action was taken at the request of  the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, the County's most effective civil rights organization. Over the past twenty-eight years, the organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 110 laws and policies providing equal rights and benefits for women and minorities.

Rand Photo 2013
"During the past year, public officials throughout  across our country have been taking steps to weaken civil rights laws by carving out exceptions," said Rand Hoch, President and Founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.  "In contrast, under Mayor Jeri Muoio's leadership, the City of West Palm Beach continues to move forward on civil rights."

 "West Palm Beach has been and continues to be committed to protecting the rights of all protected groups," said Mayor Jeri Muoio. "Discrimination of any kind must not be tolerated in our community nor in the laws that govern us."  For a copy of West Palm Beach City Ordinance No. 4643-16 , click here.