During the Summer of 2016, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council’s Board of Directors began a campaign to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy for minors throughout Palm Beach County.

Conversion therapy, also known as “ reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), encompasses a range of discredited and non-effective 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 practice is based on two false premises:

● that being LGBTQ is a mental disorder or defect that needs to be cured
● that being LGBTQ can actually be changed through therapy.

No ethical mental health practitioner should attempt to cure or repair gender identity or sexual orientation through these scientifically invalid techniques, since attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating impact on a minor.

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.

Although mental health practitioners have been conducting conversion therapy on LGBTQ patients for more than 40 years, the practice gained popularity in the late 20th century, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), popularized conversion therapy.

NARTH was 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 as three years old and encouraged parents to have their children marginalize and ridicule their LGBTQ classmates. 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.

Dr. Julie Harren Hamilton, a licensed therapist with an office in Palm Beach Gardens and a former NARTH President, is a strident advocate for protecting the rights of therapists to engage in conversion therapy nationwide. To see how out of touch Dr. Hamilton is with reality, please view her video at Homosexuality 101.

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 so-called therapy relied entirely on anti-LGBTQ bigotry and a clear distortion of scientific data.

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.

In May 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a comprehensive report entitled "Quacks: 'Conversion Therapists,' the Anti-LGBT Right, and the Demonization of Homosexuality." To view the report, go to the Southern Poverty Law Center's website.

According to an Orlando Political Observer-Gravis Marketing poll of 1,243 Florida voters conducted April 4 through April 10, 2017, 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%.

In 2017, 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. However, the bill has gone nowhere in Congress.

In 2012, California became the first state to ban conversion therapy for minors. Since then and through July, 2018, the following states have prohibited the practice: New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut, Nevada, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Delaware.

For the past four sessions of the Florida Legislature, bills to prohibit conversion therapy statewide were introduced. However, neither the Florida Senate nor the Florida House of Representatives has ever held a hearing on the bill. It is expected that a bill to ban conversion therapy statewide will be introduced in the 2019 legislative session.

After a countywide campaign conducted by PBCHRC that lasted only eighteen months, on December 19, 2017, Palm Beach County became the first county in Florida to ban conversion therapy. Broward County is the only other county in Florida to ban the practice.

The City of Miami Beach became the first Florida municipality to ban conversion therapy in June 2016. Since then, the following Florida municipalities (including seven in Palm Beach County), enacted conversion therapy bans: Wilton Manors, Miami, West Palm Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, El Portal, Key West, North Bay Village, Tampa, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Wellington, Gainesville, Greenacres, Boca Raton and Oakland Park. No municipal conversion therapy bans have been enacted in Florida since October 2017.

In December 2017, the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, recruited two conversion therapy practitioners to file suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to nullify Tampa’s conversion therapy ban. See, Robert L. Vazzo and David H, Pickup v, City of Tampa.

Seeking a second bite at the apple in a different jurisdiction, in June, 2018, the Liberty Counsel recruited two local conversion therapy practitioners to file suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to nullify two more conversion therapy ban. See, Robert W. Otto and Julie H. Hamilton v, City of Boca Raton and County of Palm Beach.

The Liberty Counsel hopes that at least one of these cases will reach the United States Supreme Court so that they will have a chance to have the Court nullify all of the conversion therapy bans in place throughout the United States. Although the Supreme Court has already -- on four occasions – declined to hear similar cases, the Liberty Counsel is optimistic that by the time the cases reach the Court, the new conservative justices appointed by President Trump will decide to hear the cases and overturn the bans.

PBCHRC will keep you posted on the status of these cases as they work their way through the federal court system.