Tampa appeals ruling striking down conversion therapy ban

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ABOVE: Tampa Pride 2018 participants make their way down 7th Ave. in Ybor. Photo by Russ Martin.

TAMPA | The city of Tampa has appealed a ruling striking down its ban on the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The practice purports to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and more. Tampa banned it in 2017 “to protect the physical and psychological well-being of minors.”

U.S. District Judge William Jung concluded Oct. 4 that the regulation of psychotherapy is a state concern, not a municipal one. “Tampa has never regulated healthcare substantively in any other way” prior to the ban, he wrote.

“Nor does Tampa substantively regulate services similar in nature to healthcare such as massage therapy, acupuncture, optometry, tattoos, piercings, hearing aids, medical labs or funeral services,” he continued. “This contrasts with the State of Florida’s pervasive and all-encompassing regulation in this field.”

The ban was challenged by the anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel, which filed suit against the city on behalf of two therapists, one of whom did not practice in Florida. The group cited a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendments. It was defended by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm Carlton Fields on behalf of Equality Florida.

“Regardless of this decision, experts agree that conversion therapy is a dangerous and sometimes deadly practice, and we know it is still routinely practiced on children and teens in Florida,” Equality Florida’s Director of Public Policy Jon Harris Maurer shared Oct. 4. “We support the city of Tampa’s leadership in protecting minors, and the Florida Legislature can and should also act immediately to protect children from this fraudulent practice.”

Tampa filed its notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Oct. 31, asking a judge to reconsider Jung’s decision. Mayor Jane Castor – who advised Watermark prior to her election that “If portions of any of these ordinances or laws are struck down, then I will champion the equal treatment as a community” – also confirmed the city’s response to the ruling Nov. 2.

“We have appealed that,” Castor said to cheers at Pride Zoo-La, a fundraiser at ZooTampa for next year’s Tampa Pride. “Activity like that … is not what Tampa is about.” The city subsequently confirmed to Watermark on Nov. 7 that the appeal had been filed.

More than 20 cities, counties and municipalities throughout Florida have enacted bans on conversion therapy. Florida lawmakers are also seeking a statewide ban in 2020. If passed, Florida would join 18 other states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in banning the practice.

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