Lake Worth Votes to Prohibit Conversion Therapy
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
On Dec. 13, the Lake Worth City Commission voted unanimously to prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy on minors within city limits.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts, encompasses a range of 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.
"Conversion therapy is usually forced on minors by parents who find it impossible to accept the fact that their children identify as gay or lesbian," W. Trent Steele, a member of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council board of directors, said in a statement. "This so-called 'treatment' is extremely harmful."
The action was taken at the request of the council, a civil rights organization, which partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Over the past 28 years, the nonprofit organization has worked with local public officials to enact more than 110 laws and policies providing equal rights, benefits and protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"Conversion therapy is an extremely dangerous and fraudulent practice that claims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity," Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. "This bogus practice is premised on the lie that LGBTQ individuals have a 'condition' that needs to be cured."
According to Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist who practices in West Palm Beach, 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," she said in a statement. "And secondly, it is based on the presumption that being LGBTQ is something that can actually be changed through therapy."
"Any ethical mental health practitioner should not attempt to cure or repair gender identity or sexual orientation through these scientifically invalid techniques," Needle said. "Attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity can have a devastating impact on a minor."
California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati, Seattle and Pittsburgh have enacted laws to prevent licensed mental health providers from offering conversion therapy to minors.
In Florida, the cities of West Palm Beach, Miami, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands and North Bay Village have enacted conversion therapy bans.
"The West Palm Beach City Commission took a step in the right direction by approving this ordinance to ban this harmful practice on minors," McCoy said. "The commission has sent a message to LGBTQ youth: 'You are perfect the way you are and do not need to be 'fixed.'"
During the 2016 legislative session, state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) introduced a bill to prohibit conversion therapy statewide. However, the Senate refused to take action on the bill. Clemens intends to reintroduce his bill this year.
The Lake Worth ban on conversion therapy, and all of the similar bans enacted to date, applies only to state-licensed therapists. Unlicensed therapists, or those associated with faith-based groups, retain their religious freedom to engage in such work.