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.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
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.