Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Boynton Beach outlaws 'conversion therapy' on minors

By Brooke Baitinger, South Florida Sun Sentinel
January 4, 2017

LGBT youngsters living in Boynton Beach are free to be themselves and love who they want to love without worrying about medical efforts to change them.

The city on Tuesday became the latest municipality in South Florida to outlaw "conversion therapy," a method aimed at converting a person's gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Boynton Beach Commission gave initial approval toan ordinance banning licensed professionals from trying to convert the gender identity or sexual orientation of LGBT youth. Violators can be fined $500 or sued by the city, according to language in the ordinance.
Commissioner Justin Katz voiced his support for the ban Tuesday.

"It's just an absurd idea that in 2016 - going on 2017 now - that people could believe that you could change someone's sexuality through chastising them and berating them and making them hate themselves," he said. "I'm happy that this ordinance has been trickling its way down Palm Beach County, and we're able to solidify that we are protecting children regardless of their sexual orientation."

The ban will apply only to state-licensed therapists. To ensure its constitutionality, the law still allows unlicensed professionals, such as religious leaders, to engage in conversion therapy, the city said.

The proposal was drafted by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Coalition, according to president and founder Rand Hoch.

Hoch began pushing legislation banning conversion therapy when he received phone calls from kids who said their parents were forcing them into therapy that was making them feel worthless, he said.

"At age 12 or 13, they had trained professionals who were telling them they would never fall in love, have a family, that they were basically worthless human beings," he said.

Last month, the Lake Worth City Commission voted unanimously to ban the practice. Other cities that enacted bans include Miami, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands and Wilton Manors. The Key West City Commission were scheduled to vote on it Wednesday evening.

At Tuesday's Boynton commission meeting, several residents urged commissioners to enact the ban. Arlene Torgan, 84, told the story of her son.

"We didn't know he was gay at the time, because like every child that age, he was afraid to tell mommy and daddy because he thought there was something wrong with him," she said. "We found out when he was 34, when he met his partner who is now his husband."

Torgan said she has encountered numerous people, many of them in their 60s, who had never told their parents they were gay because they were afraid.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Coalition hopes county government will adopt the ordinance, too, making it effective countywide. Hoch said he was encouraged to hear Boynton residents' support for the measure Tuesday.

"To hear people react that way is very encouraging and moving, and it means people get it," he said. "It's about protecting children."

The Boynton Commission will vote on the ordinance a second and final time at the Jan. 17 meeting.

A Year in Review: LGBT Rights in Palm Beach County


 
By Tucker Berardi, South Florida Gay News January 4, 2017
http://southfloridagaynews.com/Local/a-year-in-review-lgbt-rights-in-palm-beach-county.html

A lot has happened in the past year for LGBT rights in Palm Beach County, from memorial events to new legislations offering protections for LGBT youth and individuals.

Organizations such as Compass, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and more have worked throughout the year with local politicians to establish new policies and practices to further the LGBT community.

“Palm Beach County is the largest county east of the Mississippi River, the third most populous county in the State of Florida, and home to the largest gay and lesbian community center of the southeast United States,” reads the Compass website. “Thanks to the hard work of the of passionate individuals, dedicated organizations and responsible public officials, Palm Beach County maintains inclusive school policies and protections for gay youth in the county.”

“This year has been a busy year for PBCHRC,” Rand Hoch, president and founder of PBCHRC told SFGN. “Some of our work involved new initiatives, some involved following up with previous legislative accomplishments that need to be refined for a variety of reasons, some involved reaction to situations as they came up.”

Discrimination was cut down in Lake Worth as several laws and policies were amended to expand discrimination protection to LGBT individuals in the city.

According to Hoch, this year’s amendments ensured that “the city’s Fair Housing Act would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”

The amendments were also enacted so that “the city’s Merit Services policy would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and [so that] the city’s Procurement Code would ensure equal opportunity based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” Hoch wrote.

Conversion therapy has also been a hot topic throughout the year, with South Florida cities such as West Palm Beach, Wilton Manors, Miami, and most recently Lake Worth banning the practice. PBCHRC hopes to continue this trend in 2017, even aiming for a county wide ban for Palm Beach.

“[We will also] encourage additional municipalities to enact bans,” Hoch wrote. “[We will] encourage the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners to enact a county wide ban on conversion therapy for minors.”

In terms of banning conversion therapy in surrounding cities, PBCHRC Board Member W. Trent Steele told SFGN that, “if past experience has been any indication, I’m hoping this vote will be even easier [in other cities] than what the PBCHRC has pushed in the past.”  

Besides conversion therapy this year also saw the election of two more openly-LGBT candidates: Myra Koutzen as Mayor of Palm Beach County and Tonya Davis Johnson elected to the Riviera Beach City Council.

Compass hosted the largest portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on World AIDS Day. With 126 squares, the display was an opportunity to see a number of lives and families who have been touched by HIV and AIDS.

“It is a memorial. It’s a user-generated memorial where they put their love and memories into this quilt,” Tony Plakas, Executive Director of Compass told SFGN. “We always try to find a way that the AIDS memorial quilt gets the respect it deserves.”

In terms of the upcoming year, Hoch said that PBCHRC and surrounding organizations will take each day as it comes, fighting for more LGBT protections and ensuring that LGBT rights are not compromised in the upcoming political atmosphere.

“Since the LGBTQ community cannot expect much progress on the national level and, for that matter, on the state level, we must focus our attention at the county at municipal levels,” Hoch told the Miami New Times in late November. “Ultimately, Washington D.C. will see what is happening on the local level on civil rights and perhaps finally get around to enacting legislation.”

PBCHRC will endeavor to get the Chief Judge of Florida's 15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County to budget sufficient funding to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in mandatory diversity training for judges and court personnel.

As 2016 wraps up, courses of action for more pro-LGBT legislation are in the works for next year.

“In 2017, PBCHRC will continue our efforts in Palm Beach County to encourage all public employers within Palm Beach County to adopt policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity and expression,’” Hoch wrote.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lake Worth Moves Forward on Conversion Therapy Ban

December 13, 2016

At this evening's meeting, the Lake Worth City Commission unanimously voted to prohibit licensed mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy on minors within city limits.


Vice Mayor Pro Tem Andy Amoroso, Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell,
 Mayor Pam Triolo, Commissioner Ryan Maier and Christopher McVoy
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), encompasses a range of discredited counseling practices by which health care providers or counselors seek to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression through aversion treatment.

The action was taken at the request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), the county's most effective civil rights organization. Over the past 28 years, the independent non-profit organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 110 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ)  community.

Trent photo Attorney W. Trent Steele, a longtime member of the PBCHRC Board of Directors, focused on the need to protect children from practitioners of conversion therapy.

"Conversion therapy is usually forced on minors by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian," said  Steele. "This so-called 'treatment' is extremely harmful."

PBCHRC is partnering with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Both organizations have been successful in their efforts to protect minors from being subjected to the harms caused by conversion therapy.

"Conversion therapy is an extremely dangerous and fraudulent practice that claims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity," said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This bogus practice is premised on the lie that LGBTQ individuals have a 'condition' that needs to be cured. This evening, the West Palm Beach city commission took a step in the right direction by approving this ordinance to ban this harmful practice on minors. The commission has sent a message to LGBTQ youth: 'You are perfect the way you are and do not need to be 'fixed.'"

According to Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist who practices in West Palm Beach, the practice of conversion therapy is based on two false premises.

"First, it is based on the falsehood that being gay, lesbian or transgender is a mental disorder or defect that needs to be cured, " said Needle.  "And secondly, it is based on the presumption that being LGBTQ is something that can actually be changed through therapy."

Needle, who is also an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, noted that the potential risks of conversion therapy on children include shame, guilt, depression, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends, social withdrawal, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, hostility and blame towards parents, high risk behaviors, confusion, self-harm, substance abuse and suicidal ideation.

"Any ethical mental health practitioner should not attempt to cure or repair gender identity or sexual orientation through these scientifically invalid techniques," Needle stated.  "Attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating impact on a minor."

Lake Worth Vice Mayor Pro Tem Andy Amoroso, who is openly gay, brought the ordinance forward.

"There is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, so there is nothing that needs to be fixed through this so-called therapeutic treatment," said Amoroso. "For decades, studies have shown that this is harmful to LGBT kids, and we are not going to permit that to happen in our city."

"The discredited practice of conversion therapy has long been rejected by virtually all of our nation's mainstream medical and mental health organizations," said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. "Instilling self-hatred in children is not therapy"

Nearly every major medical and psychological association in the country has come out in opposition to conversion therapy. These include the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American College of Physicians, the American Counseling Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the Pan American Health Organization, the Regional Office of the World Health Organization and the World Psychiatric Association.

"The American Psychological Association has linked conversion therapy to depression, substance abuse and even suicide, and these risks are particularly acute for youth," said Carolyn Reyes, Youth Policy Counsel and Coordinator of NCLR's BornPerfect Campaign to end conversion therapy  "We applaud the efforts by the Commission to ensure that the children of West Palm Beach County are protected from these harms, and that their families aren't duped by trusted professionals to whom they turn for support during a vulnerable time."

In addition, conversion therapy has been soundly rejected by the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association and the School Social Work Association of America.

Last May, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a comprehensive report entitled " Quacks: 'Conversion Therapists,' the Anti-LGBT Right, and the Demonization of Homosexuality." (www.splcenter.org/20160525/quacks-conversion-therapists-anti-lgbt-right-and-demonization-homosexuality).

Across the nation, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati, Seattle and Pittsburgh have already enacted laws to prevent licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors.

In Florida, West Palm Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach,  Bay Harbor Islands and North Bay Village have enacted conversion therapy bans.
The Lake Worth ban on conversion therapy - and all of the similar bans enacted to date - applies only to state-licensed therapists. Unlicensed therapists, such as those associated with faith-based groups, retain their religious freedom to engage in such work. Additionally, adults remain free to seek out conversion therapy.  

Although there have been several court challenges to the constitutionality of banning conversion therapy, all have failed. On three occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to the constitutionality laws banning conversion therapy for minors.

U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act to empower the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on conversion therapy. Specifically, the law would make sexual orientation change efforts illegal under the Federal Trade Commission Act, and classify advertising these services or providing them in exchange for monetary compensation as fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive. The bill would also explicitly clarify that the Federal Trade Commission has the duty to enforce this provision and would further provide state attorneys general the authority to enforce it in federal court.

In addition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign (a Washington, DC-based LGBTQ rights organization which is not affiliated with PBCHRC) filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission seeking to ban conversion therapy nationwide.

During the 2016  legislative session, State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Atlantis) introduced a bill to prohibit conversion therapy statewide (S. 258).  However, the Senate refused to take action on the bill. Clemens intends to reintroduce his bill in 2017
 
"While we wait to see if Florida's legislative leaders will even schedule a hearing on Senator Clemens' bill, the City of Lake Worth will take action now to protect LGBT youth," said Amoroso.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance Endorsements - 2017

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 candidate has been endorsed by The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance in his campaign for re-election in 2017:

Boca Raton Mayor - Susan Haynie

Boynton Beach City Commission (Dist. 2) - Mack McCray
Boynton Beach City Commission (Dist. 4) - Joe Casello

Greenacres Mayor - Jonathan Pearce
Greenacres City Council (Dist. 1) - Lisa Rivera
Greenacres City Council (Dist. 5) - Paula Bousquet
 
Lake Worth City Commission (Dist. 2) - Christopher McVoy

Palm Beach Town Council - Danielle Hickox Moore 

West Palm Beach City Commission (Dist. 2) -  Cory Neering 
West Palm Beach City Commission (Dist. 4) -  Keith James  

 __________________

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

U.S. Congressman - Ted Deutch
U.S. Congresswoman- Lois Frankel
U.S. Congressman - Alcee Hastings

State Senator - Jeff Clemens
State Senator - Bobby Powell
State Senator - Kevin Rader 

State Representative - Joseph Abruzzo
State Representative - Lori Berman
State Representative - Bill Hager
State Representative - Al Jacquet
State Representative - David Silvers
State Representative - Matt Willhite

County Commissioner - Mack Bernard
County Commissioner - Mary Lou Berger
County Commissioner - Dave Kerner
County Commissioner - Hal Valeche

Clerk of the Circuit Court - Sharon Bock
Property Appraiser -  Dorothy Jacks
Public Defender - Carey Haughwout
Sheriff - Ric Bradshaw
State Attorney - Dave Aronberg
Supervisor of Elections - Susan Bucher
Tax Collector - Anne Gannon

School Board Member - Frank Barbieri
School Board Member - Barbara McQuinn
School Board Member - Chuck Shaw

Port Commissioner - Jean Enright
Port Commissioner - Wayne Richards
Port Commissioner - Katherine Waldron

Circuit Court Judge - Dina Keever
County Court Judge - Marni Bryson

Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Board Member - Pat Edmonson
Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Board Member - Rob Long

Boynton Beach Mayor Steven B. Grant

Lake Worth Mayor - Pam Triolo
Lake Worth City Commissioner - Scott Maxwell
Lake Worth City Commissioner - Andy Amoroso

Rivera Beach City Councilwoman - Tonya Davis Johnson

Wellington Village Councilman - John McGovern
Wellington Village Councilman - Michael Napoleone

West Palm Beach City Commissioner - Sylvia Moffett
West Palm Beach City Commissioner - Paula Ryan
West Palm Beach City Commissioner - Shanon Materio

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

PBCHRC President's Message - November 2016




 
November 9, 2016

Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council's activists -- all volunteers -- have interviewed hundreds of candidates for public office. We have done this to educate public officials, make endorsements and take action to elect people who will take steps to change laws and policies to provide equal treatment and equal benefits for the local LGBT community. As part of our efforts, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance (PBCHRCVA) has been working diligently for decades to identify more LGBT-supportive residents and get them registered to vote.  

During 2016, there were more PBCHRC-supportive volunteers than ever before. They participated in our voter identification, early voting, vote-by-mail and get-out-the-vote campaigns. We also had a record number of our supporters volunteering for individual candidates than ever before. Additionally, an impressive cadre of LGBT-suportive voters worked with the countywide coordinated campaign to maximize voter turnout here.

As a result of these efforts -- and your participation -- the following candidates were elected (or re-elected) to office yesterday:

U.S. Congressman - Alcee Hastings
U.S. Congresswoman - Lois Frankel
U.S. Congressman- Ted Deutch
State Senator - Bobby Powell
State Senator - Jeff Clemens
State Representative - Matt Willhite
State Representative - Lori Berman
County Commissioner - Hal Valeche
County Commission - Dave Kerner
County Commissioner - Mary Lou Berger
Port of Palm Beach Commissioner - Jean L. Enright
School Board Member - Barbara McQuinn
Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Board Member -Pat Edmonson
Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Board Member- Rob Long   
 
Congratulations to all!  (A complete list of the 43 candidates endorsed by the PBCHRC Voters Alliance who have been elected (or re-elected) this year can be found by clicking here.)
 
As a result of our successes in electing LGBT-supportive candidates, throughout Palm Beach County, it is illegal to discriminate against LGBT people with regard to employment, housing and public accommodation. In addition, there are now more than 110 local ordinances, resolutions, collective bargaining agreements and policies that provide Palm Beach County's LGBT residents and visitors equal rights, protections and benefits.  A complete list can be found by clicking here and selecting  the "Laws & Policies" tab.

In addition to mobilizing for the elections, PBCHRC has been working with both Palm Beach County and the City of West Palm Beach to enact ordinances to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors (a discredited method of counseling based on the erroneous assumption that LGBT identities are mental disorders that can be cured through aversion treatment).


West Palm Beach City Hall

On November 7, the West Palm Beach City Commission voted unanimously to ban conversion therapy on minors within city limits.West Palm Beach joins California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, the cities of Cincinnati, Miami Beach, Seattle and Wilton Manors; and the Village of Bay Harbor Islands; all of which have enacted similar bans. 

Thanks go out to West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, and City Commissioners Sylvia Moffett, Cory Neering, Paula Ryan, Keith James and Shanon Materio for their unwavering support of the conversion therapy ban. Special thanks go out to PBCHRC Board Member Trent Steele, who is spearheading our conversion therapy ban initiative.

On the same night, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and the city commissioners officially thanked PBCHRC for the work we have done to help the city earn a perfect score on the 2016 Municipal Equality Index (MEI).

The MEI, a joint project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Council, examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of the LGBTQ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership's public position on equality.

West Palm Beach is one of only 60 cities nationwide to have earned a perfect score this year.

PBCHRC thanks everyone who has served on the West Palm Beach City Commission since 1998 for helping to make this national recognition possible. Special thanks go out to Mayor Muoio's LGBT liaison Robert Telford, for his successful work with the MRI application process.

Finally, PBCHRC is excited to announce that on Saturday, January 14, 2017, PBCHRC will be holding our annual Winter Fête at the home of Mason Phelps and Ron Neal in Wellington.

Our goal is to have all of the event's expenses (e.g., catering, open bar, printing and postage, entertainment, valet service, etc.) underwritten in advance by our supporters. That way, every dollar raised from ticket sales will go directly to carrying out our mission. Therefore, we are seeking donors to become underwriters by contributing $1,000. Underwriters will receive two tickets to the Winter Fête, recognition in our media and printed materials, and an invitation to a fabulous pre-party which will be held at a private home in early January. As of Election Day, the following have signed up to help underwrite the event.

Hosts 
Mason Phelps and Ron Neal
Underwriters  
Dan Berk and Javier Weicman 
David Cohen and Paul Bernabeo 
Christopher Caneles and Stephen Nesbitt 
Tom Corrigan and Craig Mitchell 
Bill Eberhardt 
Jeffrey P. Ganek 
Howard Grossman, M.D. 
Daniel S. Hall 
The Law and Mediation Offices of Rand Hoch, P.A. 
County Commissioner-elect Dave Kerner 
Wood Kinnard and Alberto Arias 
Michael Judd and Ben Small 
Sid Lesowitz and Peter Rogers 
Joseph Pubillones Interiors 
Trent Steele and Wayne Lewis 
J.P. Sasser 
Stephen Mooney and Scott Velozo 
Don Todorich - Corcoran Group R.E 
Fred Zrinscak

If you are unable to underwrite, please consider purchasing individual tickets for $125 per person. In 2016, both our Winter Fête and Summer Soirée sold out before we could even print invitations -- and it is likely this year's event will do so as well. So, if you do not want to be left out, please consider purchasing tickets at this time.

To underwrite and/or purchase tickets to PBCHRC's 2017 Winter Fête, please click here. Checks made payable to "PBCHRC" may also be send to P.O. Box 267, West Palm Beach, Florida 33402.

Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has worked diligently on behalf of the LGBT community. With your support, we will continue to do so in the years to come - and we will keep you posted on our progress!

Judge Rand Hoch (retired),
President and Founder 

P.S.  If you are surprised that I did not mention the losses of Hillary Clinton and Patrick Murphy, that is because I am still in denial. 

PBCHRC Voters Alliance Endorsed Candidates Elected in 2016

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 who have been endorsed by The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance were elected (or re-elected) to hold office in 2016:

U.S. Congressman - Ted Deutch
U.S. Congresswoman- Lois Frankel
U.S. Congressman - Alcee Hastings

State Senator - Jeff Clemens
State Senator - Bobby Powell
State Senator - Kevin Rader 

State Representative - Joseph Abruzzo
State Representative - Lori Berman
State Representative - Bill Hager
State Representative - Al Jacquet
State Representative - David Silvers
State Representative - Matt Willhite

County Commissioner - Mack Bernard
County Commissioner - Mary Lou Berger
County Commissioner - Dave Kerner
County Commissioner - Hal Valeche

Clerk of the Circuit Court - Sharon Bock
Property Appraiser -  Dorothy Jacks
Public Defender - Carey Haughwout
Sheriff - Ric Bradshaw
State Attorney - Dave Aronberg
Supervisor of Elections - Susan Bucher
Tax Collector - Anne Gannon

School Board Member - Frank Barbieri
School Board Member - Barbara McQuinn
School Board Member - Chuck Shaw

Port Commissioner - Jean Enright
Port Commissioner - Wayne Richards
Port Commissioner - Katherine Waldron

Circuit Court Judge - Dina Keever
County Court Judge - Marni Bryson

Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Board Member - Pat Edmonson
Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation Board Member - Rob Long

Boynton Beach Mayor Steven B. Grant

Lake Worth Mayor - Pam Triolo
Lake Worth City Commissioner - Scott Maxwell
Lake Worth City Commissioner - Andy Amoroso

Rivera Beach City Councilwoman - Tonya Davis Johnson

Wellington Village Councilman - John McGovern
Wellington Village Councilman - Michael Napoleone

West Palm Beach City Commissioner - Sylvia Moffett
West Palm Beach City Commissioner - Paula Ryan
West Palm Beach City Commissioner - Shanon Materio

Monday, November 7, 2016

West Palm Beach Bans Conversion Therapy on Minors

November 7, 2016


West Palm Beach City Hall
(West Palm Beach, Florida) At this evening's meeting, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously voted to prohibit licensed mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy on minors within city limits.  The ban goes into effect immediately.

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), encompasses a range of discredited counseling practices by which health care providers or counselors seek to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression through aversion treatment.

The action was taken at the request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), the county's most effective civil rights organization. Over the past 28 years, the independent non-profit organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 110 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ)  community.

Trent photo Attorney W. Trent Steele, a longtime member of the PBCHRC Board of Directors, focused on the need to protect children from practitioners of conversion therapy.

"Conversion therapy is usually forced on minors by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian," said  Steele. "This so-called 'treatment' is extremely harmful."

PBCHRC is partnering with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Both organizations have been successful in their efforts to protect minors from being subjected to the harms caused by conversion therapy.

"Conversion therapy is an extremely dangerous and fraudulent practice that claims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity," said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This bogus practice is premised on the lie that LGBTQ individuals have a 'condition' that needs to be cured.  This evening, the West Palm Beach City Commission took a step in the right direction by approving this ordinance to ban this harmful practice on minors. The commission has sent a message to LGBTQ youth: 'You are perfect the way you are and do not need to be 'fixed.'"

At the first reading of the ordinance on October 24, Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist who practices in West Palm Beach, told commissioners that the practice of conversion therapy is based on two false premises.

"First, it is based on the falsehood that being gay, lesbian or transgender is a mental disorder or defect that needs to be cured, " said Needle.  "And secondly, it is based on the presumption that being LGBTQ is something that can actually be changed through therapy."

Needle, who is also an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, told city commissioners that the potential risks of conversion therapy on children include shame, guilt, depression, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends, social withdrawal, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, hostility and blame towards parents, high risk behaviors, confusion, self-harm, substance abuse and suicidal ideation.

To support her assertions, Needle provided the city with "abstracts of eleven highly regarded academic studies which empirically conclude that conversion therapy is at best ineffective, and at worst extremely harmful"

"Any ethical mental health practitioner should not attempt to cure or repair gender identity or sexual orientation through these scientifically invalid techniques," Needle stated.  "Attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating impact on a minor."

"I strongly believe the commission should enact this ordinance to protect children and adolescents from a practice that is far outside the bounds of any ethical psychological treatment plan," said Needle. "Passage of this ordinance will send an important message to LGBTQ youth in our city:  there is nothing wrong with your sexual orientation or gender identity."

Although Dr. Julie Herren Hamilton, a  psycholgist from Palm Beach Gardens who is a member of the South Florida Association of Christian Counselors, spoke out against the ordinance at the October 24 City Commission meeting, neither the mayor nor the city commissioners were moved.

While she did not identify herself as such, Dr. Hamilton served as the President of The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) for several years.

NARTH was a small, but well-funded for-profit organization made up of therapists who sought to diminish the rights of LGBT people by singling them out as having mental disorders. The organization advocated anti-LGBT therapy for children as young a three years old and encouraged parents to have their children marginalize and ridicule their LGBT classmates.

At a NARTH conference Dr. Hamilton organized in  West Palm Beach in 2009 drew more than 100 anti-NARTH protesters.

In 2012, the organization's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status was revoked by the Internal Revenue Service.

During the week prior to tonight's vote, the mayor and city commissioners received dozens of e-mail petitions urging them not to enact the ban. The petitions were the work of Robert Tyler Hamilton, a coach at The Kings Academy, who is married to Dr. Julie Hamilton.  The Kings Academy is a private Christian College which refuses to prohibits the hiring of openly LGBT personnel and refuses to allow open LGBT students to attend the school.

In addition, on November 3rd, The Liberty Counsel sent letter notifying West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio that if the city enacted a ban on conversion therapy, his organization "stands ready to vindicate the rights of counselors, minors and parents."

The Liberty Counsel, a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty, has long been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Throughout the year, Muoio has made it known that banning conversion therapy on minors is one of her  priorities.

"Conversion therapy reinforces the erroneous message that being gay, lesbian or transgender is something that is wrong and needs to be fixed," said Muoio. "We are going to prohibit this junk science and put an end to the harm it can cause LGBTQ youth."

Despite the petitions and the Liberty Counsel's veiled threat, City Commissioners unanimously voted to protect LGBT youth by banning conversion therapy.

"The discredited practice of conversion therapy has long been rejected by virtually all of our nation's mainstream medical and mental health organizations" said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. "We are grateful that Mayor Muoio and the city commissioners have enacted a law to protect LGBTQ youth from these unethical practices."

Nearly every major medical and psychological association in the country has come out in opposition to conversion therapy. These include the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American College of Physicians, the American Counseling Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the Pan American Health Organization, the Regional Office of the World Health Organization and the World Psychiatric Association.

"The American Psychological Association has linked conversion therapy to depression, substance abuse and even suicide, and these risks are particularly acute for youth," said Carolyn Reyes, Youth Policy Counsel and Coordinator of NCLR's BornPerfect Campaign to end conversion therapy  "We applaud the efforts by the Commission to ensure that the children of West Palm Beach County are protected from these harms, and that their families aren't duped by trusted professionals to whom they turn for support during a vulnerable time."

In addition, conversion therapy has been soundly rejected by the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association and the School Social Work Association of America.

Last May, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a comprehensive report entitled "Quacks: 'Conversion Therapists,' the Anti-LGBT Right, and the Demonization of Homosexuality". (www.splcenter.org/20160525/quacks-conversion-therapists-anti-lgbt-right-and-demonization-homosexuality).

Around the nation, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati and Seattle have all banned conversion therapy.  In Florida, West Palm Beach now joins Miami, Miami Beach, Wilton Manors and Bay Harbor Islands in enacting  laws to prevent licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors. Two other Florida municipalities - North Bay Village and El Portal - are considering enacting similar bans before year's end.

The West Palm Beach ban on conversion therapy - and all of the similar bans enacted to date - applies only to state-licensed therapists. Unlicensed therapists, such as those associated with faith-based groups, retain their religious freedom to engage in such work. Additionally, adults remain free to seek out conversion therapy.

Although there have been several court challenges to the constitutionality of banning conversion therapy, all have failed. On three occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to the constitutionality laws banning conversion therapy for minors.

U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act to empower the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on conversion therapy. Specifically, the law would make sexual orientation change efforts illegal under the Federal Trade Commission Act, and classify advertising these services or providing them in exchange for monetary compensation as fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive. The bill would also explicitly clarify that the Federal Trade Commission has the duty to enforce this provision and would further provide state attorneys general the authority to enforce it in federal court.

In addition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign (a Washington, DC-based LGBTQ rights organization which is not affiliated with PBCHRC) filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission seeking to ban conversion therapy nationwide.

During the 2016  legislative session, State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Atlantis) introduced a bill to prohibit conversion therapy statewide (S. 258).  However, the Senate refused to take action on the bill.
 
"When it comes to protecting LGBTQ people - especially children - the city of West Palm Beach is not just going to wait for the state or the federal government to take action," said Muoio. "