TAMPA – The practice of conversion therapy has not only been deemed ineffective, but has been called harmful by every major medical organization, including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Even with all this opposition to conversion therapy, there is still no nationwide ban on the practice, so some state, county and city leaders have taken it upon themselves to get it banned at local levels, including right here in the Bay area.
The Tampa City Council voted unanimously April 6 to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors. The ordinance was originally proposed by Tampa Councilman Guido Maniscalco earlier this year and had its first reading March 16.
Tampa LGBTQ activist Kate Connolly rallied support early on to get the ordinance to pass.
“I had been aware that Guido Maniscalco proposed it. Just from being a part of the political scene, I was hearing a lot of apathy and disbelief that it could ever be banned in the city of Tampa; that it was unlikely and would just open the city up to lawsuits,” Connolly says. “I was very disappointed that people I call “haters” showed up at the proposal of the ordinance, and they were the only ones to make public comment. There were no supporters of the ban, nobody from the LGBTQ community. So I rallied around that because I didn’t want those haters to be the only ones to be making comment.”
Connolly rallied the troops, and by the ordinance’s first reading, members of the LGBTQ community came out to not only support the proposed ban but to also give public comment on it.
“I think this was important, if at the very least, as a symbolic gesture to make sure that the LGBTQ community knows that Tampa is a safe and welcoming place for them, especially the youth, because the homeless and substance abuse rates in the Tampa Bay area for LGBTQ youth are rising,” Connolly says. “It was a statement to the small, core group of people in Tampa Bay who were practicing [conversion therapy] and proud of it.”
The city council voted unanimously at both the first and second reading to pass the ban in Tampa. In fact, the only discussion in adjusting the proposed ban was to strengthen the punishment against those who broke it.
“They are the highest proposed fines in the states of Florida,” Connolly says. “Even more than the bans down in South Florida.”
The unanimously approved measure punishes mental health professionals who offer the therapy to minors with a fine up to $1,000 for the first offense and fines up to $5,000 for repeat offenders. There is an exemption in the ordinance for anyone affiliated with religious organizations who are not licensed therapists. The fines will also not be imposed for therapists working with adults who wish to undergo a form of the therapy.
The same day the Tampa ordinance passed, St. Petersburg city councilmember Steve Kornell proposed a similar ordinance that would ban conversion therapy in his city. Kornell proposed a ban last year but it did not go anywhere.
“I’m not sure if Steve was planning to reintroduce the St. Pete ban again this year before we got it to pass in Tampa, but I definitely think that our ban is going to help gain him support in his efforts,” Connolly says. “He did tell me that he was very pleased that it went through in Tampa because that it made a case to ban it in St. Pete.”
Bans on conversion therapy are recognized in six states —California, Oregon, New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and Vermont— the District of Columbia and 15 other cities; including 10 in the state of Florida. Tampa is the first Florida city outside of South Florida to pass a conversion therapy ban.