Judge says Tampa should be barred from enforcing parts of conversion therapy ban

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | A federal magistrate judge has recommended that the city of Tampa be barred from enforcing parts of its ban on the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

Tampa’s Ordinance 2017-47 is designed to protect the physical and psychological well-being of LGBTQ youth from “exposure to the serious harms and risk caused by conversion therapy.” It was signed into law in April 2017.

In Dec. 2017, the anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel filed suit against the city, citing a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In Jan. 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm Carlton Fields filed a motion on behalf of Equality Florida to defend the ban.

“The City of Tampa is one of 20 local governments in Florida that has banned so-called ‘conversion therapy’ on minors,” Equality Florida responded to the judge’s report Feb. 1. “Conversion therapy, a widely debunked practice, seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Nearly every mainstream​ ​medical and mental health association has spoken against this practice.”

In her 38-page report dated Jan. 30, U.S. Magistrate Judge Amanda Sansone argues that the ordinance violates the free-speech rights of conversion therapists. It advises that Tampa “may not enforce the ordinance against mental health professionals who provide non-coercive, non-aversive [Sexual Orientation Change Effort] counseling—which consists entirely of speech, or ‘talk therapy’—to minors within the city limits.” It does allow the ban to be applied to techniques like electroshock therapy.

“The fact remains that LGBTQ minors are at risk of fraudulent and dangerous so-called ‘conversion therapy,’” Equality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer advised in the organization’s response.“This lawsuit is being driven by Liberty Counsel, the same far-right extremists who recently attacked a bipartisan, anti-lynching bill that unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate just because it includes LGBTQ people.

“Equality Florida will not be deterred from protecting LGBTQ youth,” he continued, “and we applaud the city of Tampa’s leadership for taking a stand to do the same.”

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver celebrated the judge’s recommendation. “The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from providing counsel which their clients seek,” he released in a statement. “This well-reasoned opinion underscores the serious First Amendment violations of laws that dictate what a counselor and client may discuss in the privacy of their counseling session. The government has no business eavesdropping inside the counseling session between a counselor and client.”

The federal Ninth and Third Circuit courts have previously upheld conversion therapy bans in California and New Jersey. The magistrate judge’s report will be sent to a federal district judge to issue a ruling.

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