Anti-LGBTQ group files suit against Tampa’s conversion therapy ban

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Tampa | An anti-LGBTQ group known as Liberty Counsel has filed a suit against the city of Tampa for banning the practice of conversion therapy on minors, citing a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The ban was first proposed by Councilman Guido Maniscalco in early 2017, and Tampa’s City Council voted unanimously on April 6 to ban the practice of attempting to psychologically change an individual’s sexual orientation.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry advises that “clinicians should be aware that there is no evidence that sexual orientation can be altered through therapy.” They further assert that “such efforts may encourage family rejection and undermine self-esteem, connectedness and caring, important protective favors against suicidal ideation and attempts.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lesbian, gay and bisexual youth already face a greater risk for depression, suicide and substance abuse. During its last study, 29 percent had attempted suicide at least once compared to just six percent of their heterosexual peers.

The Tampa law, signed by Mayor Bob Buckhorn on April 10, applies only to licensed therapists. It carries a fine of $1000 for each separate violation for first offenses, and $5000 for subsequent violations.

“The intent of this ordinance is to protect the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning youth, from exposure to the serious harms and risks caused by conversion therapy or reparative therapy by licensed providers,” Ordinance 2017-47 reads. “These provisions are exercises of police power of the city for the public safety, health, and welfare.”

Nearly eight months to the day since the ordinance’s passage, on Dec. 4, Liberty Counsel filed their suit. The organization represents counselors Robert L. Vazzo, David H. Pickup and their minor clients and their parents.

Their suit alleges that the ordinance prohibits clients “from receiving counseling to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity,” while imposing “significant monetary fines” for licensed individuals performing the demonstrably ineffective practice.

“The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit a form of counseling simply because it does not like the religious beliefs of a particular client,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver says. “Tampa’s prohibition is blatantly unconstitutional and causes harm to countless minors, and Liberty Counsel will not stand by as authoritarian members of council blatantly ignore the First Amendment.”

Tampa City Council members are unable to comment on pending litigation, but the city’s attorney Sal Territo advises that Tampa is aware of the suit.

“We just received the lawsuit and have not yet had a chance to fully review its contents,” Territo told Watermark. “As soon as we reply to the lawsuit that document will become a public record, and it will spell out the City position on the matter.”

Nine states and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy on minors, though Florida is not among them. Fifteen counties, municipalities and communities in the Sunshine State have passed similar bans, however, including Tampa.

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