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.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

President's Message - February 2019

February 13, 2019

Since 1988, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance (PBCHRCVA) has interviewed close to 1,000 candidates for public office. As a result of our successes in electing LGBTQ-supportive candidates, it is illegal in Palm Beach County to discriminate against LGBTQ people with regard to employment, housing and public accommodation. In addition, conversion therapy is banned throughout the county. Moreover, there now are more than 135 local ordinances, resolutions, collective bargaining agreements and policies that provide Palm Beach County's LGBTQ residents and visitors equal rights, protections and benefits. A complete list can be found on the Laws & Policies page.

PBCHRCVA endorses candidates who support LGBTQ initiatives and privacy rights. Endorsements of candidates are made upon consideration of:

* How a candidate has voted on LGBTQ issues
* How a candidate has supported the Palm Beach County LGBTQ Community

On March 12, 2019, municipal elections will be held across Palm Beach County. PBCHRCVA has concluded the candidate screening and interview process for the elections to be held in Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach.

The following candidates have been endorsed by The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance in their campaigns for election or re-election in the 2019 Municipal Elections:
Boynton Beach Mayor
Steven B. Grant

Boynton Beach City Commissioner (Dist. 1)
Justin Katz

Boynton Beach City Commissioner (Dist. 2)
You must only vote for one of the candidates
Mike Fitzpatrick
Christina Romelus

Boynton Beach City Commissioner (Dist. 4)
Tyrone Penserga

Lake Worth City Commissioner (Dist. 2)
Omari Hardy

Lake Worth City Commissioner (Dist. 4)
Herman Robinson

Palm Beach Town Council 
Julie Araskog

Riviera Beach City Commission (Dist. 1)
Lynne Hubbard

Riviera Beach City Commission (Dist. 3) 
Tonya Davis Johnson

West Palm Beach Mayor
Priscilla Taylor

West Palm Beach City Commission (Dist. 3)
Richard Ryles
If you live in Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, Palm Beach, Riviera Beach or West Palm Beach, it is important to vote in the municipal elections and we hope that you will support our endorsed candidates.


Last summer, Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, filed suit in federal court on behalf of two licensed therapists seeking to nullify the ban on conversion therapy for minors enacted by Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton. The lawsuit is virtually identical to one filed by Liberty Counsel last December against the City of Tampa. 

Although several lawsuits have been filed across the United States seeking to overturn conversion therapy bans, not a single one has been successful. In fact, on four occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up cases challenging the bans. However, as the Supreme Court turns further and further to the right on social issues, Liberty Counsel is seeking another chance to allow therapists to abuse LGBTQ children through conversion therapy.

In October, a daylong hearing was held before U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg on the plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Injunction. A ruling is expected soon and PBCHRC will continue to keep you informed on the status of the case as it works its way through the court system.

Unfortunately, things have not gone as expected in the federal lawsuit seeking to nullify the City of Tampa's ban on conversion therapy. In late January, a magistrate issued a recommendation to the presiding federal judge, William Jung, who was appointed to serve on the Federal court by President Trump last fall. The magistrate urged Judge Jung to grant Liberty Counsel's clients motion for a preliminary injunction which would allow conversion therapy practitioners to continue to "treat" children with "talk therapy" pending a trial on the merits later this year. 

What surprised me was that the magistrate accepted Liberty Counsel's arguments that the therapists should be allowed to continue to practice conversion therapy based on their First Amendment rights to free speech. This is contrary to rulings in all of the other conversion therapy ban cases around the county.

While I am concerned about the direction where the Tampa case ultimately could go if Judge Jung adopts the magistrate's recommendation, it is important to understand that at this stage, the recommendation is only that - a recommendation. It is not an actual order from the Court. Now it is up to Judge Jung to decide whether to adopt that recommendation or issue a different ruling. That is all that counts. 

Furthermore, this is only about a preliminary injunction while the case works its way through the federal courts. Regardless of the outcome of this stage of the process, there will be a trial on whether the Tampa conversion therapy ban will be upheld later this year. 

It is important to keep in mind that even if Judge Jung adopts the recommendation of the magistrate, it will not be binding on Judge Rosenberg, who is presiding over the Liberty Counsel's case against Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton. Nor will Judge Jung's ruling be binding anywhere else outside of the City of Tampa. That having been said, Judge Rosenberg could find Judge Jung's decision to be persuasive, which would be extremely unfortunate for LGBTQ children in Palm Beach County.

PBCHRC Treasurer Dan Hall and scholarship recipient Victor Espidol
PBCHRC is accepting applications for the Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Award -- a college scholarship available to graduating LGBTQ high school seniors from Palm Beach County. We award these scholarships annually to up to three local college-bound high school seniors who have demonstrated an interest in advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community. 

If you are - or know - a graduating senior who might be interested, more information and a link to the application, click here.


VIP Reception hosts Scott Rixford and Jose Mena
with Winter Fête Host Jeff Ganek (center)

On Saturday night, January 19, 2019, more than 150 PBCHRC supporters gathered at the West Palm Beach home of contemporary art collector Jeff Ganek to honor West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio at our SOLD OUT Winter Fête. Thanks go out to Jeff, as well as to Scott Rixford and Jose Mena, who hosted a party in mid-January to thank PBCHRC's major donors.

To view more photos from the event, click here.


Joseph Pubillones, PBCHRC Preisdent Rand Hoch and Don Todorich

The 10th Annual Land Rover Palm Beach International Gay Polo Tournament will be held on Saturday, April 6, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. For more information and tickets, go to Once again, PBCHRC's tailgate party is being sponsored by REALTOR Don Todorich of the Corcoran Group and Joseph Pubillones Interiors. Ken Keffer Catering will be providing the food, and as always, there will be an open bar. 

For information about tickets and tailgates, click here


West Palm Beach City Commissioners Christina Lambert and Kelly Shoaf
at the 2019 Winter F Fête

On the local level:
  • PBCHRC Board Member Meredith Ockman is working with West Palm Beach City officials on two other initiatives. Meredith is working with
    • City Commissioner Christina Lambert and Compass on initiatives to assist LGBTQ seniors.
    • City Commissioner Kelly Shoaf and Compass on initiatives to assist LGBTQ youth.
  • Within the next few months, the City of West Palm Beach will be installing an LGBTQ Pride Rainbow Crosswalk at a location soon to be determined.
  • To help make trans and gender nonconforming residents and visitors feel more welcome, at PBCHRC's request, the City of West Palm Beach soon will be changing the unisex signs on single-stall restrooms in City Hall and all other municipal buildings to be "All-Gender."
  • PBCHRC is working to have the Lake Worth City Commission adopt inclusive and innovative approaches to citywide bullying prevention.
  • PBCHRC is working with the Health Care District of Palm Beach County to see if it is feasible for the District to provide trans-specific healthcare services to indigent patients. Thanks go out to Health Care District Commissioner Cory Neering for his assistance in this initiative.
  • PBCHRC is working with School Board Member Karen Brill in an effort to have the School Board take steps to ensure that the School District ceases doing business with Chick-fil-A and other companies that discriminate against LGBTQ people and other minorities.
On the state level, PBCHRC is working with SAVE FloridaTranslatinaConservatives on the Right of Equality, former State Representative David Richardson and numerous LGBTQ activists around the state in support of the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act (FIWA) - a new effort to amend the Florida Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Thanks go out to our local to State Senators -- Lori Berman (D-Lantana), Bobby Powell (D-Riviera Beach), and Kevin Rader (D-Boca Raton) -- for becoming early FIWA co-sponsors.Thanks also go out to Lake Worth Vice Mayor Andy Amoroso who got the Lake Worth City Commission to adopt a resolution urging all of the legislators in Palm Beach County to support FIWA.

Additionally, PBCHRC has recently become affiliated with the Florida Hate Crime Coalition to help garner support for State Senator Kevin Rader (D-Boca Raton) and Representative Joe Geller (D-Aventura) legislation to extend Florida's Hate Crimes laws to include "gender identity."

For 31 years, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has worked diligently on behalf of the LGBTQ community. With your support, we will continue to do so in the years to come - and we will keep you posted on our progress.
Judge Rand Hoch (retired), 
President and Founder

This paid electioneering communication, which is independent of any party, candidate or committee, is produced, sponsored and paid for by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance.
Post Office Box 267
West Palm Beach, Florida 33402