Pro-LGBTQ groups file motion for Equality Florida to defend Tampa’s conversion therapy ban

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Tampa | The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firm Carlton Fields have filed a motion on behalf of Equality Florida to defend Tampa’s conversion therapy ban.

In December, the anti-LGBTQ group known as Liberty Counsel filed a suit against the city for banning the practice of conversion therapy on minors, citing a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Conversion therapy – sometimes called ‘ex-gay therapy’ – attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Equality Florida’s statement on the motion reads. “It has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and every other major professional health organization as ineffective, unethical and dangerous. Conversion therapy has been shown to lead to higher instances of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide.”

“As the state’s largest civil rights organization advocating on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, Equality Florida played an integral role in the passage of Tampa’s ordinance,” it continues, “which prohibits licensed mental health professionals from performing conversion therapy on minors.”

Tampa’s Ordinance 2017-47 was signed into law by Mayor Bob Buckhorn on April 10. Its intent “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.”

“At Equality Florida, we fight to protect LGBTQ families and children, which is why participating in this lawsuit is at the core of our mission as Florida’s statewide LGBTQ organization,” Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, says. “We worked closely with the City of Tampa, elected leaders, and members of the community to ensure LGBTQ young people are protected from this deceptive and utterly discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy.”

In addition to the motion to intervene, the groups filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “Liberty Counsel is known for filing litigation challenging the expansion of equal rights for the LGBT community,” the SPLC says, “from defending anti-LGBT discrimination in businesses to fighting marriage equality. Liberty Counsel has unsuccessfully challenged conversion therapy bans across the country.”

Watermark reached out to Liberty Counsel for comment and was directed to the organization’s initial press release announcing the suit. “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,” it reads, crediting founder and chairman, Mat Staver. “Tampa’s prohibition is blatantly unconstitutional and causes harm to countless minors.”

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.

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