Friday, February 15, 2019

Federal Judge Upholds Palm Beach County and Boca Raton Conversion Therapy Bans

Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel loses again

February 14, 2019

In a 60 page order, Judge Robin Rosenberg of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied the request of two conservative Christian metal health counselors who sought preliminary injunctions to prevent Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton from enforcing laws prohibiting them from subjecting LGBTQ minors to conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, also known as ” reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), encompasses a range of discredited and noneffective counseling practices by which healthcare providers seek to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The practice has been widely discredited by every major professional health organization in the United States as being ineffective, unethical and dangerous. These organizations 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 also has 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.
Fifteen states, the District of Columbia and numerous counties and municipalities across the nation have banned conversion therapy.
The two local ordinances banning conversion therapy were enacted in 2017 at the request of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), Florida’s oldest nonpartisan civil rights group dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Over the past 31 years, the independent nonprofit organization has succeeded in having public officials implement more than 130 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protections for the LGBTQ community. PBCHRC was also responsible for the enactment of seven other municipal ordinances banning conversion therapy in Palm Beach County.
“Judge Rosenberg handed LGBTQ children in Palm Beach County a significant victory,” said retired judge Rand Hoch, PBCHRC’s President and Founder. “For the time being, young LGBTQ people in Palm Beach County will remain safe from the psychological abuse caused by a handful of quacks who would like to resume practicing conversion therapy here.”
None of the 20 conversion therapy bans enacted to date in Florida apply to members of the clergy unless they also are licensed mental health professionals.
At the federal court hearing on the preliminary injunction last October, local mental health counselors Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton were represented by Liberty Counsel, an organization classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. For decades, Liberty Counsel has challenged pro-LGBTQ laws across the United States. However, every time Liberty Counsel has gone to court to overturn a conversion therapy ban, the organization has failed.
Liberty Counsel lawyers argued that conversion therapy bans violated their clients’ free speech rights and religious beliefs. They tried to convince the court that the injunctions were necessary because their clients were prevented from helping LGBTQ minors who want to turn heterosexual.
The lead counsel for the defendants, Assistant Palm Beach County Attorney Rachel Fahey, told the court that “sexual orientation and gender identity can’t be changed by a licensed provider,” adding that there was nothing in the ordinances that would prevent mental health providers from counseling or providing “talk therapy” to minors who might be struggling with their sexual identities. Fahey argued that the bans were necessary to protect LGBTQ youth from serious harm resulting from being subjected to conversion therapy.
Prior to casting their votes to ban conversion therapy in 2017, Palm Beach County Commissioners and Boca Raton City Commissioners were presented with scientific reports and expert opinions on the harms related to conversion therapy.
“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,” said Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist and an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, whose expertise was relied upon by the elected officials who enacted the conversion therapy bans throughout Palm Beach County.
Dr. Needle’s expert testimony also was taken into consideration by Judge Rosenberg.
In her ruling, Judge Rosenberg rejected Liberty Counsel’s arguments that the bans violated the free speech rights of mental health counselors, parents and minor patients.
“Since the preliminary injunctions were denied, Judge Rosenberg has let us know that there is very little chance any of the conversion therapy bans in South Florida will be overturned by the federal district courts here,” Hoch added.
Judge Rosenberg’s ruling will no doubt be taken into consideration by Judge William Jung of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, who is set to rule on a preliminary injunction in Robert Vazzo and David Pickup v. City of Tampa – a virtually identical case brought by two conversion therapy practitioners also represented by Liberty Counsel. While the federal magistrate in that case has recommended the a preliminary injunction be granted, Judge Jung is not required to follow her recommendation.
“In light of Judge Rosenberg’s masterful and well reasoned ruling, I am hopeful that Judge Jung rejects the magistrate’s recommendation,” said Hoch.
Less than an hour after Judge Rosenberg issued her ruling, Liberty Counsel filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of the two therapists.
“To date, 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. “However, since so many very conservative federal judges have appointed over the past two years, Liberty Counsel is chomping at the bit to take a conversion therapy ban challenge through the federal courts and up to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“Before Trump was elected, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear cases seeking to overturn conversion therapy bans on four separate occasions,” said Hoch. “However, with Associate Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh now sitting on the Court, those of us in the LGBTQ legal community are very concerned.”

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