Ruling that overturns ban on controversial therapy for LGBTQ youth causing concern locally

MIAMI, Fla. – Across South Florida, cities have enacted bans on the controversial practice of conversion therapy on minors to protect LGBTQ youth from what they say are the harmful impacts of the practice.

According to The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under 25, conversion therapy refers to practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

But there’s a new court ruling that scraps all that. The ruling, and what the City of Miami can do about it, is what’s on the agenda at Miami’s City Hall Thursday.

According to the Associated Press, a federal appeals court blocked the enforcement of local ordinances in Florida that ban conversion therapy. The ruling, issued Friday, could put similar prohibitions at risk. The U.S. 11th District Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned a lower court decision not to grant an injunction in a lawsuit challenging ordinances established by Palm Beach County and Boca Raton that banned conversion therapy.

Boca Raton City Council Member Andy Thomson said: “It is our job is to protect the health safety and welfare of our residents.”

Thomson said serving that mission underpinned the city’s ban on conversion therapy to minors.

The ban is now declared unconstitutional according to a court ruling, a majority opinion making an argument for free speech.

“The first amendment does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender.”

Tony Lima is a Miami-Dade County LGBTQ advisory board member and helped advocate for the passage of bans on conversion therapy.

“I think that freedom of speech stops when the lives of our LGBTQ youth are in danger,” Lima said, adding that “it leads to depression, which often leads to suicide.”

An Oxford University Press blog post explained that “conversion therapy has been discredited by every reputable mainstream medical and psychiatric organization.”

The American Psychological Association voiced grave concern regarding the rationale used by a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in overturning the Florida ordinances intended to protect minors.

“When speech harms, the government has more ability to regulate and here there is a mountain of evidence that this type of speech, when it is converted into action, really does harm and that is what these ordinances are trying to prevent,” Nina Brown, an attorney and media law professor at Newhouse School at Syracuse media law professor, said.

With jurisdiction over Alabama, Georgia and Florida, the 11th circuit ruling now places all ordinances banning conversion therapy at risk to include in Miami and Miami Beach.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said: “This is not about free speech, this is about whether you have a right to hurt somebody.”

Miami Beach is already authorizing the filing of an amicus curiae brief. According to the Legal Information Institute, frequently, a person or group who is not a party to an action, but has a strong interest in the matter, will petition the court for permission to submit a brief in the action with the intent of influencing the court’s decision. The city of Miami will discuss a similar action Thursday to support Boca’s Raton’s option to pursue a rehearing en banc. Thomson told Local 10 that this week is the deadline for filing the re-hearing petition.

“Which gives the 11th circuit another crack at the case, perhaps with more justices,” Brown said.

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, sponsor of a resolution that will be discussed Thursday at Miami City Hall, said he’s been speaking with upwards of 20 other cities across the country to join their brief.

“This is not a partisan issue, this is a human issue, and we really need to take care of our kids,” he said.

(See the court’s ruling below.)

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."