Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wellington Moves Forward With Conversion Therapy Ban for Minors

June 14, 2107

(Wellington, Florida) At last night's tonight's meeting, the Wellington Village Council voted at First Reading to prohibit conversion therapy on minors within village limits. The vote was four to one, with Mayor being the sole vote against the ordinance.

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. A second vote later this month is required before the ban can go into effect.

Councilman Michael J. Napoleone, Vice Mayor John T. McGovern, Councilwoman Tanya Siskind, Mayor Anner Gerwig and Councilman Michael Drahos

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 120 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, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Riviera Beach.

PBCHRC Vice President Carly Cass focussed on the need to protect children from practitioners of conversion therapy.

"Minors are frequently forced into conversion  therapy by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian," said Cass. "This so-called therapy has often been shown to be 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 Wellington Village Council 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 Village Council 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," said Needle. "And second, 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."

Wellington Vice Mayor John T. McGovern and Councilman Michael J. Napoleone brought the ordinance forward.

"Wellington is a diverse, inclusive, safe community that strives to provide the best quality of life for its residents - most of all its children." said Vice Mayor John McGovern. "Allowing any child to be exposed to the critical health risks associated with sexual orientation change efforts, without any clear evidence that such change is even possible, is inconsistent with our community."

"Conversion therapy has been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades. Not only is it proven to be ineffective, but these so-called treatments can cause psychological harm to minors," said Napoleone. "This is a practice that is all harm and no good.  Being gay is not a a disorder that requires treatment. We have the authority as a Village to protect minors from the harm caused by conversion therapy and I am strongly in favor of banning such practices in Wellington." 
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.

One of Dr. Nicolosi's colleagues, Dr. Julie Harren Hamilton, urged Village Council Members to vote down the ban on conversion therapy for minors. She warned Village Council Members that if they 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 LGBTQ 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 Village Council," Rand Photo 2013 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."

A few Wellington residents expressed concern that a ban on conversion therapy would infringe on their constitutional rights as parents. However, PBCHRC attorney Jamie Todd Foreman-Plakas reminded Village Council Members that the rights of parents have been frequently limited by the government.

"While the U.S. Constitution protects parents' decisions regarding
the care, custody, and control of their children, that protection is not without qualification," said attorney Jamie Todd Plakas-Foreman, a member of PBCHRC Board of Directors.  "Local governments have enacted  laws regarding compulsory school attendance, mandatory school uniforms, compulsory vaccinations of children and curfews for minors, to name a few."
"Elected officials at the local, state and federal levels have a compelling interest in protecting children. Indeed, they have broad authority to do so," said Hoch. "Courts across our nation have repeatedly ruled that the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose medical or mental health treatment for their children that has been determined to be harmful."

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 the NARTH conference in West Palm Beach at which  conference organizers held workshops to train therapists how to convert LGBTQ individuals to become heterosexuals.
"The discredited practice of conversion therapy has long been rejected by virtually all of our nation's major medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional and mental health organizations," said 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.
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 soc-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 Wellington 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.

Across the nation, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati (OH), Seattle (WA), Pittsburgh (PA), Toledo (OH) and Columbus (OH) have laws preventing licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors. (New York's ban is uniquely the result of an order signed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and not legislation.)

In Florida, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal, Key West and Tampa have enacted conversion therapy bans for minors. On June 6, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved an ordinance banning conversion therapy on minors at First Reading.  Final Reading should take place there later this summer. 

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 Wellington (pop.62,560) 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 four occasions, most recently on May 1, 2017, 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, 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.

"Hopefully, legislative leaders in Washington and Tallahassee will move forward on banning conversion therapy," said McGovern "However, until a national or statewide ban on conversion therapy is enacted, we are taking going to do all we can to protect LGBTQ youth here in Wellington,"

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