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Tampa’s Conversion Therapy Ban Overturned


Therapists in Tampa are once again able to conduct the controversial procedure known as conversion therapy after a federal judge struck down a city ban on it.

In a ruling released late Friday, U.S. District Judge William Jung said that it is not the city’s job, but the state’s, to regulate health care issues. He also added that the ban interferes with the rights of privacy afforded by Florida law, as well as a parent’s right to choose health care for their children.

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.

It was challenged by therapists and religious groups, including Liberty Counsel, a Christian group based in Orlando. They claimed the ban violated their free-speech rights.

Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, thinks that the Court’s decision is a fair response to what he called an unconstitutional ordinance.

“The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from helping their clients achieve their goals,” said Staver. “Regulating health care is above the pay grade of local municipalities. While striking down the ordinance, the court shredded the arguments used to justify these unconstitutional counseling bans.”

LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Florida, argues that the ordinance didn’t violate the First Amendment.

“[The bans] are constitutional,” said Brandon Wolf, media relations manager for Equality Florida.

He also believes that conversion therapy brings much more harm than good.

“Where we disagree with the judge really, is he feels that this must be done on a statewide level, he talks about states having the sole responsibility for managing health care treatments,” said Wolf. “But conversion therapy is not a health care treatment. Conversion therapy is child abuse being perpetrated by con artists in our communities and cities. We believe we have every right to protect the citizens through ordinances like this.”

According to Wolf, conversion therapy is one of the main reasons for suicide among LGBTQ children and young adults.

Staver disagrees.

“[Critics] create a straw man,” he said. “They use words like conversion therapy, which is not a term used by counselors, it’s never been a term used by counselors. What takes place is simply what takes place in any counseling.”

Since scientists disagree about the effects of the treatment, it should not be banned by Tampa, said Jung. He cited a 2009 American Psychological Association Task Force report and concluded that no study has come up with an answer of whether the practice produces either beneficial or harmful outcomes.

It’s not yet clear whether Tampa will appeal the verdict. Conversion therapy has been banned in 20 communities across Florida.

WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.

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