Major medical groups agree that conversion therapy is a pseudo-scientific practice that harms the mental health of LGBT youth.
Gainesville should join more than a dozen cities in Florida and nine states across the country in prohibiting conversion therapy from being conducted on children. Subjecting minors to this dangerous practice amounts to child abuse.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is counseling intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Mainstream medical groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychological Association have found the practice doesn't achieve those aims.
These groups have found that conversion therapy instead harms the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, leading to issues such as depression, substance abuse disorders and suicidal thoughts. They have issued statements and policies opposing the practice.
It is unclear whether any licensed therapists or other health professionals in Gainesville provide conversion therapy. But Gainesville is the home to an anti-gay organization called the American College of Pediatricians and its co-founder, pediatrician Dr. Tom Benton.
The group has promoted the use of conversion therapy and opposed legislative efforts to prohibit its practice. It has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which found that it “masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBT junk science.”
Gainesville’s proposed ban, scheduled to be considered Thursday by the City Commission, would only apply to medical practitioners, therapists and other professionals licensed by the state to provide counseling. It would only cover the practice of conversion therapy on minors and wouldn’t apply to clergy members or other religious counselors.
The proposed ban is an imperfect solution, given that parents could still seek such therapy from churches or outside city limits. But it would send a strong message that LGBT youth shouldn’t be treated like they have a mental health disorder that needs to be cured.
While federal circuit courts have upheld conversion therapy bans in California and New Jersey, a legal challenge is currently being considered to Tampa’s ban on it. Other Florida municipalities including Miami, Key West and West Palm Beach have adopted similar bans, but a statewide measure died without action this past legislative session.
Twenty years ago, Gainesville prohibited discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing based on sexual orientation. A decade later, the City Commission extended these protections to bar discrimination based on gender identity.
Yet Gainesville is behind the curve with conversion therapy, given that it is already prohibited in a number of cities and states across the country. The City Commission shouldn't wait any longer to show its continued support for LGBT rights — indeed, the basic human rights of all people — by banning this harmful practice from being conducted on children.
Such a ban would show the city stands with mainstream medical groups that have found that conversion therapy doesn’t work. More importantly, it would help protect minors against a practice that could have damaging long-term consequences to their health and well-being.