Awaiting the Court’s Ruling on the Palm Beach County Conversion Therapy Bans
Photo Courtesy of PBCHRC

Awaiting the Court’s Ruling on the Palm Beach County Conversion Therapy Bans

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Judge Rand Hoch (ret.), President and Founder, Palm Beach County Human Rights Council

Conversion therapy is a discredited counseling practice by which therapists and other health care providers seek to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression through aversion treatment. The practice repeatedly has been shown to harm LGBTQ+ youth.

We cannot allow this barbaric practice to continue in Florida — or anywhere else.

Knowing there was no chance of anyone convincing the Florida Legislature to enact a law banning conversion therapy statewide, and inspired by a conversion therapy ban enacted by the City of Miami Beach, in 2016, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) began a two-year campaign to ban conversion therapy throughout Palm Beach County.

Miami Beach First Assistant City Attorney Robert Rosenwald, West Palm Beach Assistant City Attorney Zoë Panarites, PBCHRC Board Member Trent Steele, and I carefully drafted a model ordinance to ban conversion therapy. We sought and received input from our colleagues at SAVE, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On November 7, 2016, West Palm Beach became the first local municipality to enact the model ordinance, banning conversion therapy on youth throughout the city. Over the next 11 months, similar conversion therapy bans were enacted in Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Riviera Beach, Wellington, Greenacres, and Boca Raton.

PBCHRC shared the model ordinance with Alachua and Broward Counties, as well as the City of Tampa, all of which enacted virtually identical ordinances banning conversion therapy.

Our local campaign culminated on December 19, 2017, when Palm Beach County enacted the first countywide conversion therapy ban in Florida.

Immediately after the ban took effect, Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, filed suit in federal court on behalf of two therapists seeking to nullify the bans on conversion therapy for minors enacted by Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton. The plaintiffs argued that they should be allowed to continue to practice conversion therapy.

In 2019, Judge Robin Rosenberg of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied Liberty Counsel’s motion for preliminary injunctions. As a result, young LGBTQ+ people in Palm Beach County remain safe from the psychological abuse caused by conversion therapy.

Photo Courtesy of PBCHRC

Having lost, Liberty Counsel has appealed the order to the U.S. District Court of Appeal for the Eleventh Circuit. Briefs were filed and oral argument was held in February. We expect the appellate court ruling in the near future.

As mentioned above, the City of Tampa enacted a conversion therapy ban utlizing the PBCHRC model on April 6, 2017. Liberty Counsel immediately filed suit to nullify the ban. Unfortunately for LGBTQ+ youth, this time Liberty Counsel prevailed. Judge William Jung of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida struck down the ban, making it legal for conversion therapy practitioners in Tampa to once again “treat” LGBTQ+ children with their quackery.

The City of Tampa appealed the ruling to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Although briefs have been filed, no date has been set for oral argument. Therefore, a decision is not expected until later this year or early next year.

PBCHRC invites you to join a Virtual Town Hall sponsored by the National Equality Action Team (NEAT). The event will be held at 7:00PM the evening after the appellate court decision is announced. NEAT’s presenters will provide their analysis of the court’s ruling. Since the court does not give notice when it issues decisions, specific details about the Town Hall will be sent out immediately following the ruling.

Interestingly, the panel of presenters does not include any of the attorneys who co-wrote the ordinances being challenged in court. Nor does the panel include any of the attorneys who argued the cases before Judge Rosenberg or the three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit. Most significantly, none of the boots-on-the-ground activists involved in organzing to get the conversion therapy bans at issue enacted were invited to be on the panel. Still, the Virtual Town Hall may provide an interesting perspective on the future of conversion therapy ban across the country.

Go to www.TheNeat.org/11Circuit.html to RSVP to attend the Virtual Town Hall. Even if you can’t attend, RSVP to receive a recording of the event.

Stay safe and keep healthy.