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Opponents Say Conversion Therapy is Prevalent in Florida Despite Fight to Ban It

The ban on conversion therapy was enacted by the City Council in 2017 in order to protect children from the practice that was typically used on those who identified as LGBTQ or as a different gender from birth.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Despite a ban in 22 Florida communities, conversion therapy is a widespread practice in Florida, according to activists. 

Therapists are now free to practice the controversial treatment in Tampa, since a federal judge lifted the ban on it last week. The ruling says health care regulation is the purview of the state, not the city.  It applies to any therapy or counseling that attempts to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Major medical associations, from the American Medical Association to the American Psychological Association, say conversion therapy has no scientific credibility. Jon Harris Maurer, Public Policy Director of Equality Florida and Sarah Rogers of The Daily Beast weighed in on the topic on The Florida Roundup.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity

The Florida Roundup: Jon Harris, how prevalent is the practice in your estimation in Florida?

MAURER: This is the most frequent question I get when I'm talking about conversion therapy around the state. Of course, we know it is because those practitioners who want to continue this practice, archaic and harmful as it is, are the ones who are bringing these lawsuits. Both the one in the Middle District challenging Tampa's ban that was just overturned, as well as the challenge in the Southern District of Florida, where Liberty Counsel made the exact same arguments.

In fact they lost that case on the preliminary injunction. So we know that it is still happening unfortunately and it remains a widespread risk for our LGBTQ youth.

Sarah Rogers, you've covered the movement to ban conversion therapy here in Florida particularly in Orlando, which of course was the site of the Pulse massacre that hit the LGBTQ community so hard. It's a particularly sensitive issue in Orlando, correct?

ROGERS: Yes, that's absolutely correct. I think that in the wake of Pulse,  the LGBT community really came together in Orlando and is hailed as something of a community that's very inclusive. So the fact that it's still prevalent there is a sore spot for sure.  

You spoke with people who have experienced conversion therapy. How did they describe it to you?

ROGERS: One conversion therapy survivor I spoke to told me that it was not only damaging mentally, but it had physical manifestations. She had a chronic illness that flares with stress. The intense stress and trauma of conversion therapy made her so physically ill [that] she was hospitalized. Another therapy survivor I spoke to went through conversion therapy camp that was basically the home of a religious counselor, and he told me the experiences were incredibly intrusive.

He was made to disclose all of his thoughts and fantasies to the counselor; he had installed spyware on his computer. So he was deterred from looking at porn. You know it just a lot of shaming tactics that are inherently made to make these people feel bad about themselves and to feel like there's something inherently wrong with them.  

Those types of ideas about LGBTQ people have been broadly rejected by the majority of Americans. We live in a land now of marriage equality. Psychiatrists and the medical community have discredited conversion therapy. So is this something that medical professionals sanction?

MAURER: Every mainstream medical and mental health association has debunked this practice and many of them have recognized the extreme harms of conversion therapy and the long-standing impacts that it has. The Williams Institute out of UCLA expects that 20,000 minors in those states where it hasn't been banned will be subjected to conversion therapy, despite all of this overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus from the leading mental health mental health associations about its harms and its ineffectiveness.  

What about the argument that private groups should have the right to do this?

MAURER: These bans really focus on the behaviors of licensed professionals. There are certainly a lot of other contexts in which conversion therapy may occur. And these bans haven't targeted all of those I mean long term. I think one day we will recognize this as a dangerous and archaic practice and it will ultimately be banned nationwide. But right now what we're talking about is what licensed therapists and medical practitioners can practice and if they're practicing in Florida they should be practicing good medicine.

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Denise Royal