Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Palm Beach County is first in Florida to ban discredited LGBTQ "conversion therapy"

December 19, 2017

Commissioner Dave Kerner, Vice Mayor Mack Bernard, Commissioner Hal Valeche, Mayor Melissa McKinlay, and Commissioners Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick and Steven Abrams.
 
(West Palm Beach, Florida) Following this morning's 5-2 vote by county commissioners, Palm Beach County became the first county in Florida -- and the largest county in the United States -- to prohibit conversion therapy for minors. Commissioners Steven Abrams and Hal Valeche cast the sole vote against the ban.
 
 Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts, 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 ban covers Palm Beach County's 39 municipalities as well as the county's unincorporated areas. It applies to doctors, osteopaths, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage or family therapists and counselors licensed by the State of Florida as well as  people who perform counseling as part of the person's professional training.  
 
The ban does not apply to members of the clergy unless they are also licensed -- or in training to become licensed -- mental health professionals.  
 
Trent photo In June, 2016, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), the county's most effective civil rights organization, asked county commissioners to enact the ban.  
 
PBCHRC Board Member Trent Steele headed up the campaign to ban conversion therapy throughout Palm Beach County.
 
"Kudos to Palm Beach County Commissioners for recognizing that instilling self-hatred in LGBTQ children through psychological torture is not therapy," said Steele.   
 
 
For almost three decades, PBCHRC, an independent non-profit organization, has succeeded in having public officials enact more than 120 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) community.  

"Palm Beach County has repeatedly taken the lead in protecting the rights of LGBTQ people," said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. "As a result, Palm Beach County is now one of the safest places in the world for LGBTQ people to live, study, work, create families, raise children and retire.
   
Dr. Rachel Needle, a local psychologist, told county commissioners 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, stated 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.

Dr. Julie Harren Hamilton, a local psychologist who treats patients for what she refers to as "unwanted same-sex attraction, led the opposition to the countywide ban.

Hamilton also opposed the eight municipal conversion therapy bans that have already been enacted throughout Palm Beach County over the past 18 months. However each of her campaigns failed in those municipalities which considered -- and enacted -- bans on conversion therapy for minors.
 
At today's public hearing, as well as at the December 5 first reading of the ordinance, Hamilton and her minions tried to persuade county commissioners that LGBTQ people needed to be corrected through "talk therapy".  They implored the commissioners to reject -- or at least water down -- the ordinance.  
 
But to no avail.

"For the past eighteen months I have had to endure these people suggesting to elected officials that gay people are God's mistakes and then go on to say that they are the ones who can fix God's mistakes through therapy," said Hoch. "How arrogant!"
 
Hoch told county commissioners that the choice before them was clear: "You can vote to protect children from harm, or you can vote to protect these people who want to continue to cause children harm. Basically, the choice is between kids and quacks."
 
Mary Lou Berger "As a county commissioner, it is my duty to work to ensure the safety of our residents -- especially our children," said Mary Lou Berger, who brought the ordinance before the county commission last year at the request of PBCHRC. "Conversion therapy has been rejected by virtually every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades. No child in Palm Beach County should be subjected to this so-called treatment." 
  
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.

Conversion therapy has also been 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.

PBCHRC partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Both organizations have been successful in their efforts to protect minors from being subjected to the harms caused by conversion therapy.

In addition, PBCHRC worked closely with SAVE, a South
Florida LGBTQ rights organization which was the driving force behind six of the conversion therapy bans enacted in Broward and Miami-Dade.

"Palm Beach County made history today, becoming the first county in Florida to ban conversion therapy for minors," said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  
"We applaud the county commissioners for supporting the well-being of LGBTQ youth, and for taking a stand against this extremely dangerous and fraudulent practice that claims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity."  
 
Last May, SPLC published a comprehensive report entitled " Quacks: 'Conversion Therapists,' the Anti-LGBT Right, and the Demonization of Homosexuality."

"Conversion therapy is harmful to our youth and must be stopped," said McCoy. "We urge the rest of Florida to follow the example set by Palm Beach County, and pledge to protect our youth from this heinous practice."

"Numerous studies have 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 county commissioners to ensure that the children of 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," said Reyes.

Across the nation, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Pima County (AZ), Cincinnati (OH), Seattle (WA), Pittsburgh (PA), Toledo (OH), Columbus (OH), Allentown (PA), Dayton (OH), Athens (OH) and New York City have enacted laws preventing licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors.

Sixteen Florida municipalities -- Miami Beach, Wilton Manors, Miami, North Bay Village, West Palm Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, El Portal, Key West, Tampa, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Wellington, Greenacres, Boca Raton and Oakland Park -- have enacted conversion therapy bans for minors.

Broward County, which gave initial approval to an ordinance banning conversion therapy ban earlier this month, is expected to enact a ban in January. Gainesville City Commissioners are also expected to enact a ban within the next few months.

In early December, The Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, filed suit against the City of Tampa in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to overturn that city's conversion therapy ban.

Hoch does not expect that lawsuit to be successful.

"Every court challenge to the constitutionality of banning conversion therapy ever filed in the United States has failed," said Hoch, who served as Florida's first openly gay judge in the 1990s. "And as recently as last May, the U.S. Supreme Court -- with Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch participating -- declined to consider an appeal filed in an attempt to overturn a statewide conversion therapy ban."

That was fourth time the Supreme Court rejected an attempt by an anti-LGBTQ group to overturn a conversion therapy ban, according to Hoch.

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