(Delray Beach, Florida) At tonight's meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission unanimously voted to prohibit conversion therapy on minors within city limits. The ban applies to doctors, osteopaths, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage or family therapists and licensed counselors. However, it does not apply to members of the clergy unless the are also state-licensed mental health professionals.
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 118 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.
PBCHRC Board Member Marcie Hall focussed
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 Hall. "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 Delray Beach City Commission took a step in the right direction by enacting 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, told City Commission Members 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," Needle stated at last month's City Commission meeting. "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."
"LBGTQ people are not mentally ill. They are not flawed and they do not need to be 'cured' by anyone," said City Commissioner Mitch Katz. "Tonight, the Delray Beach City Commission is letting the public know that we oppose conversion therapy being performed on minors. It is not going to happen in our city."
Although mental health practitioners have been conducting conversion therapy on LGBTQ patients for several decades, the practice gained popularity in the late 20th century, when Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the co-founder the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), popularized conversion therapy.
At tonight's meeting, one of Dr. Nicolosi's colleagues, Dr. Julie Herren Hamilton urged City Commissioner to vote down the ban on conversion therapy for minors. She told City Commissioners that if the enacted the ordinance, it would prohibit children distressed by homosexual attractions and feelings from getting help.
While she did not identify herself as such, Dr. Hamilton served as the President of 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 LGBTQ people by singling them out as having mental disorders.The organization advocated anti-LGBTQ therapy for children as young a three years old and encouraged parents to have their children marginalize and ridicule their LGBT classmates. In 2012, the organization's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status was revoked by the Internal Revenue Service.
"Dr. Hamilton is intentionally trying to mislead the City Commission," said said retired Judge Rand Hoch, PBCHRC's President and Founder. "Minors protected by the ordinance may seek out treatment from licensed professionals -- as well as from unlicensed individuals, including members of the clergy - in addressing any issues regarding their sexuality. Nothing in the ordinance will prevent minors from seeking help regarding same-sex attractions, or gender identity or expression."
"The discredited practice of conversion therapy has long been rejected by virtually all of our nation's mainstream medical and mental health organizations," said Hoch. "Instilling self-hatred in children is not therapy."
Palm Beach County activists have been in the forefront on opposing conversion therapy for many years.
In November, 2009, more than 100 demonstrators turned out to protest Dr. Hamilton's NARTH conference in West Palm Beach at which conference organizers held workshops to train therapists how to convert LGBTQ individuals to become heterosexuals.
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.
In August 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted the "Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts," which found that the so-called reparative treatment relied entirely on anti-LGBTQ bigotry and a clear distortion of scientific data.
"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 Delray Beach 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, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati (OH), Seattle (WA), Pittsburgh (PA), Toledo (OH) and Columbus (OH) 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, Delray Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal, Key West and Tampa have enacted conversion therapy bans for minors. The Riviera Beach City Council is expected to enact a similar ordinance on May 3.
According to an Orlando Political Observer-Gravis Marketing poll of 1,243 Florida voters conducted April 4 through April 10, 71% think conversion therapy should be illegal for minors in Florida, 18% were uncertain and only 11% thought conversion therapy should be legal. The poll has a margin of error of 2.8%.
The Delray 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.
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.
In late April, the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2017 was introduced in Congress to crack down on conversion therapy. More than 70 members of Congress have gone on record in support of the bill. If enacted, 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.
For the past two consecutive legislative sessions, Florida State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Atlantis) introduced bills to prohibit conversion therapy statewide. However, the Florida Senate refused to take action on the bills. Clemens intends to reintroduce the bill in the 2018 legislative session.
"Once again, the Florida Legislature refused to take up Senator Clemens' bill" said Katz. "Until a national or statewide ban on conversion therapy is place, we are taking going to do all we can to protect LGBT youth in Delray Beach,"