On March 15, Gainesville joined a number of other Florida municipalities that have banned the practice of conversion therapy by licensed professionals. Like the city of Miami Beach and Palm Beach County, violators of the ordinance will be fined.
Gainesville commissioners said that legal suits, such as the one filed against Tampa after its ban on conversion therapy, would not thwart their efforts.
The ban on conversion therapy, which is a practice focused on changing the sexuality or gender of a person, received supported unanimously by the commission.
The ban applies only to conversion therapy performed on minors by licensed therapists. Because of the latter condition, local religious organizations are still allowed to continue the practice.
This is a concern of Jose Vega, a gay man who went through five years of conversion therapy in Gainesville. Vega spoke to the commission multiple times on the issue of conversion therapy. According to him, some churches in the city still participate in the practice.
Larry Green, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church and a licensed therapist, provided evidence to support this claim. He said in a March commission meeting that he gets calls “on an almost weekly basis” from parents interested in entering their children into conversion therapy.
Currently, one of the groups advocating for conversion therapy is the Gainesville-based American College of Pediatricians.
The ACP’s website promotes psychotherapy as a treatment for “unwanted homosexual attraction among youth” and advocates against “homosexual parenting.” The organization has continued to offer conversion therapy services despite medical professionals speaking out against the practice and the general agreement by the medical community that LGBTQ+ identities are not mental illnesses.
Commissioner Helen Warren, who is gay, praised the unity of Gainesville over the long-standing issue. She hopes that bans like the one passed, a first for North Central Florida, will spread to other communities in the state and nationally.
“There are many conversations that we as people, of this country, have put on the back burner for many years. This is one of them that is critical to recognize that we the people of the United States of America respect, cherish, honor the dignity of every human being,” Warren said to the Gainesville Sun.
The ordinance outlines the negative effects of conversion therapy, such as suicidal thoughts. Bob Karp, president of the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida, spoke before the commission about the impact it can have on LGBTQ+ youth.
“Imagine being told by someone you trust…that something as basic as who you’re attracted to…needs to be fixed,” he said.
While there are currently no plans to extend the ban beyond its current constraints, it achieves what the commission set out to do: protect children from being forced into conversion therapy by their parents. An experience that Vega described as “life-altering beyond anyone’s understanding who has not lived it.”