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 29 years, the independent non-profit organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact 117 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) community.
To date, PBCHRC has been responsible for the enactment of similar conversion therapy bans in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth and Boynton Beach.
Addressing the City Council, PBCHRC Board Member Hutch Floyd 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 Floyd. "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.'"
Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist who practices in Palm Beach County, has explained 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, 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."
Riviera Beach City Councilwomen Dawn Pardo and Tonya Davis-Johnson brought the ordinance forward.
"As an elected official, it is a key part of my job to take steps to protect children in Riviera Beach from abuse," said Davis-Johnson. "PBCHRC presented numerous scientific studies to the City Council and the experts all agree that conversion therapy is causes extreme emotional trauma to LGBT youth."
"Moreover, it is a a scam," added Johnson. "Parents in Riviera Beach should not be duped into spending their hard-earned money on so-called 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, according to Rand Hoch, PBCHRC's President and Founder. "Instilling self-hatred in children is not therapy," Hoch said.
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/
Across the nation, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Toledo have already enacted laws to prevent licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors.
In Florida, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal and Key West have enacted conversion therapy bans. The Tampa City Council is in the process of considering a similar ban at its meeting on March 2.
The Riviera 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.
Last year, 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 the current legislative session.
"Hopefully, legislative leaders in Tallahassee will schedule a hearing on Senator Clemens' bill this year," said Councilwoman Davis-Johnson.. "However, until a statewide ban on conversion therapy is enacted, we are taking going to do all we can to protect LGBT youth here in Riviera Beach,"
For a copy of the ordinance, click here.