PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County, Fla., could become one of the first communities in Florida to ban “conversion” therapy for children, a practice in which therapists attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the Sun Sentinel reports.
County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said Tuesday she would support the ban if county legal staff determines it’s within the County Commission’s authority. The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, an advocacy group, is pushing for county commissioners to take up the issue, the Sentinel reports.
“It is still something licensed practitioners here in Florida can do,” said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the council, which supports equal protections for the LGBT community. “Other states have taken position this is not good medicine, not good psychology. This is actually harmful.”
If successful, the county would become the first county in Florida to ban conversion therapy for people under the age of 18, according to Equality Florida, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization. Efforts to pass a ban at the state level have failed in the Florida legislature and Miami Beach is the only local government board to prohibit conversion therapy for minors, according to the group.
Equality Florida receives reports every few months of children being forced to undergo conversion therapy, but no statewide tracking exists on how often it occurs, said Mallory Garner-Wells, the organization’s public policy director, according to the Sun Sentinel.
“As far as people reaching out to us, we do hear about it pretty regularly,” she was quoted as having said. “It’s such a dangerous practice to force minors to go into conversion therapy. If policies like this one could help just one or two children, it’s absolutely worth it.”
Gay teenagers have been told in counseling sessions they are not actually gay and can change, Garner-Wells said. The therapy stresses being a true man or a feminine woman, playing up traditional gender notions, she told the Sun Sentinel.
Conversion therapy is not taught in accredited psychiatric or mental health training programs, and leading medical groups have denounced it. The American Psychological Association has concluded trying to change someone’s sexual orientation can cause depression, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.