Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Greenacres Bans Conversion Therapy for LGBTQ Youth

(Greenacres, Florida) At tonight's meeting, the Greenacres City Council voted to enact an ordinance to prohibit conversion therapy on minors.The ban takes effect immediately.
The ordinance states "conversion therapy on minors by licensed professionals is a business that should not exist within the City of Greenacres, as it is opposed to the community standards to which Greenacres aspires"   
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.'"

At First Reading last month, 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.

Over the past year, Dr. Julie Harren Hamilton, a local psychologist who treats patients for what she refers to as "unwanted same-sex attraction", has repeatedly tried to convince elected officials in Palm Beach County to allow her and her colleagues to continue to treat children with the goal of changing their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

Hamilton had served as the president of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), 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.

Hamilton has warned that if the ordinance was enacted, children "distressed by homosexual attractions and feelings" would be unable to get help.
"Although the discredited practice of
conversion therapy has long been rejected by virtually all of our nation's mainstream medical, psychiatric, psychological and mental health organizations, Dr. Hamilton has repeatedly tried to mislead elected officials," said said retired Judge Rand Hoch, PBCHRC's President and Founder.

"Regardless of Dr. Hamilton's statements, the truth is that children protected by the ordinances enacted throughout Palm Beach County may still seek help from licensed professionals. Nothing in the ordinances prevent any child from seeking help regarding same-sex attractions, sexual orientation or gender identity," said Hoch.

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 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.
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, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Pima County (AZ), Cincinnati (OH), Seattle (WA), Pittsburgh (PA), Toledo (OH), Columbus (OH) and Allentown (PA) 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.)

Greenacres joins a dozen other Florida municipalities -- 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 -- which 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%.

The Greenacres conversion therapy ordinance - and all of the similar ordinances 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.

During the past two consecutive legislative sessions, 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."