The Gainesville City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday to ban conversion therapy for minors within the city.
The ordinance would “prohibit licensed professionals from engaging in counseling efforts, practices, or treatments with the goal to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The ordinance does not prohibit practitioners from expressing their views on sexual orientation change efforts, recommending conversion therapy, using the therapy on people over 18 years old or referring minors to unlicensed counselors. The ordinance also does not prevent unlicensed providers, like religious leaders, from practicing the therapy or prohibit minors from seeking conversion therapy from other cities or counties that do not have a ban on conversion therapy.
The ordinance points out that conversion therapy can have detrimental effects such as confusion, helplessness and suicide to name a few. However, it goes on to note that major mental health and research associations have for nearly 40 years agreed that “being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender nonconforming, or questioning (LGBTQ) is not a mental disease, disorder or illness, deficiency or shortcoming.”
City Commissioner Helen Warren said religious-based groups are the main proponents of conversion therapy and they would still be allowed to practice the treatment. The ordinance, she stressed, was presented as a way to protect children whose parents force them into conversion therapy.
“The only thing we’re doing wrong with this ordinance is that we didn’t do it sooner,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said.
While all of the comments from the public during the meeting were in favor of the ordinance, there has still been some opposition to the ban, said Warren, who noted that she has seen letters to the editor that come from “sincere beliefs that you can talk someone out of” their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Three people who made public comments at the meeting had a perspective that involves faith. Larry Green, a licensed marriage and family therapist and pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, told the commission that conversion therapy continues to exist in Gainesville.
“I still receive calls on an almost weekly basis from parents who are asking, because I carry the dual hats of therapist and pastor, to help them with their children,” Green said. “My role as a therapist is to accept who they are, as God has made them to be, and conversion therapy twists and manipulates the very core of the values of that individual.”
While such places as St. Petersburg and Palm Beach County have similar bans, Gainesville is the first municipal area in North Central Florida to approve such an ordinance. Warren said she hopes that conversion therapy and its detrimental effects becomes acknowledged and banned on a state and national level.
Alexander Chaves, LGBTQ affairs director for Student Government at the University of Florida, said before the meeting: “It’s a bit serendipitous that there is nowhere else in North Central Florida that has taken action. But I’m hopeful that Gainesville is leading the way as an ally.”