At Monday night's meeting, the Greenacres City Council unanimously voted at First Reading to enact an ordinance to prohibit conversion therapy on minors. Greenacres, with a population of 38,696, is Palm Beach County's eighth largest municipality.
A final vote next month is required before the ordinance will go into effect.
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 Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), the county's most effective civil rights organization, asked the city to enact the ordinance. Over the past 29 years, the independent non-profit organization has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 120 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) community.
Over the past year, PBCHRC has been successful in convincing elected officials in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach and Wellington to prohibit conversion therapy for minors.
PBCHRC Board Member Meredith Ockman focussed on the need to protect children from practitioners of conversion therapy.
"Children are almost always forced into conversion therapy by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian," said Ockman. "For more than twenty years, studies have shown conversion therapy to be extremely harmful to children."
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 Greenacres City Council 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, told City 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, states 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 added. "Attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating impact on a minor."
"Throughout the summer, the City Council was presented with studies on conversion therapy that were conducted by mainstream medical and psychological organizations over the past twenty years," said Deputy Mayor Paula Bousquet. "Every report documented that there is a significant potential for children undergoing conversion therapy to be harmed psychologically."
"Allowing anyone to expose children to such harm is inconsistent with our community values." Bousquet added.
Advocates for the rights of children in Palm Beach County have been in the forefront of the opposition to 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. .
"Instilling self-hatred in children is not therapy,"said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch.
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 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.
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, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island, 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.
In Florida, a dozen municipalities -- West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Wellington, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal, Key West and Tampa -- have already enacted conversion therapy bans for minors.
Last month, the Miami-Dade County Commission gave initial approval to an ordinance banning conversion therapy on minors. A final vote will take place later this summer before the ban can go into effect.
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%.
During the past two sessions of the Florida Legislature, State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Atlantis) introduced bills to prohibit conversion therapy on minors statewide. However, the Florida Senate refused to take action on the bills. Clemens intends to reintroduce the bill in the 2018 legislative session.
"Unfortunately, it appears to be extremely unlikely that legislative leaders in Washington and Tallahassee will take action to ban conversion therapy in the foreseeable future," said Deputy Mayor Bousquet "Tonight the Greenacres City Council has taken a stand to ensure our residents that we are going to do all we can to protect LGBTQ youth in our city."