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Florida, Birmingham Are First to Take Action to Ban Conversion Therapy in 2019

The year isn’t even over yet, and advocates in two states have already moved to ban conversion therapy in 2019: Florida and Alabama.

Ahead of the upcoming legislative session, Florida State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez (D-Miami) introduced Senate Bill 84, which prohibits orientation change efforts from being performed on LGBTQ youth under the age of 18. If found guilty of practicing conversion therapy, medical providers face “disciplinary proceedings by the Department of Health.”

While Rodríguez is straight, the topic is a personal one for the Florida lawmaker: His brother is gay.

Upon filing the bill last week, Rodríguez noted that the vast majority of states have yet to protect LGBTQ people like his brother from a discredited practice that has been widely compared to torture.

“In most states, it is still legal to force children into conversion therapy and that is wrong,” he said in a press release. “When it comes to this debunked practice, there is no conversion and there is no therapy. So-called conversion therapy does not work because youth are who they are. They should be supported rather than shamed.”

To date, just fourteen states (and Washington, D.C.) have laws on the books banning conversion therapy.

Florida is one of them. While 20 local municipalities have enacted citywide or countywide ordinances prohibiting orientation change efforts, LGBTQ youth in many areas may still be vulnerable to the practice. For instance, Orlando and Orange County have yet to take action on conversion therapy.

In January, a representative for Florida’s second-largest city signaled it wouldn’t be moving to ban the practice anytime soon.

“This is not really an issue our residents and community leaders in Orlando have brought to our attention at this time,” spokeswoman Jessica Garcia claimed told the Orlando Sentinel, adding that officials “are unable to take any type of position on the matter” without further research.

But according to Rodríguez, Orlando shouldn’t need to research the issue. He claimed the “long-term, even lethal, damage” that conversion therapy inflicts upon queer and trans youth is “well-documented.”

Leading LGBTQ advocacy groups agree.

In a statement, Equality Florida’s Jon Harris Maurer thanked Rodríguez for “filing this critical legislation that would protect young people from this fraudulent practice.”

“Conversion therapy is a deceptive and utterly discredited practice that targets some of the most vulnerable in our state—LGBTQ young people,” the organization’s public policy director claimed. “It’s time to put an end this dangerous abuse disguised as medical treatment.”

Research has shown that more than 500,000 Americans are survivors of conversion therapy. They argue that many more will be affected if state lawmakers refuse to act.

While Senate Bill 84 is the first conversion therapy bill put forward ahead of the 2019 legislative session, it is hardly the first time Florida lawmakers have attempted to protect LGBTQ youth from the practice. Previous legislation banning orientation change efforts has been blocked by conservatives in the state legislature.

Republicans have also prevented the passage of a statewide nondiscrimination law preventing workers from being fired or denied employment based on their LGBTQ identity.

Former Gov. Rick Scott—who recently defeated Democrat Bill Nelson in a closely watched Senate race—had vowed to pass an executive order on LGBTQ nondiscrimination following the 2016 Pulse shooting but declined to follow through on the pledge.

It’s unlikely his successor, Ron DeSantis, will go further than Scott did on LGBTQ issues. During the governor’s race, he referred to challenger Andrew Gillum as a “monkey.”

Activists in Alabama, however, are hoping to find greater support in their fight against conversion therapy.

The Affirming Birmingham Coalition met with the LGBTQ liaison for Mayor Randall Woodfin on Nov. 15 to discuss the passage of an ordinance barring orientation change efforts on queer and trans youth in Alabama’s largest city. Currently, an estimated 600,000 people call Birmingham home.

Jordan Kramer, who heads up the 24-person coalition, claimed the mayor’s office appears to be “very receptive” of the proposal. He hopes to see the Birmingham City Council take up the issue in the new year.

“This proposal could have life-saving impact across the state,” the Auburn student told AL.com.

Such an ordinance would be the first of its kind in the Yellowhammer State. Not a single Alabama city or county has passed an ordinance condemning gay “cure” treatments, which include a range of practices from talk therapy to shock treatment.

While Alabama is extremely conservative, Birmingham is known as one of its most progressive centers. During the 2018 midterm elections, the city elected longtime HIV/AIDS activist Neil Rafferty to the Alabama State Legislature in a landslide victory—making him the first gay man to hold that title.

However, Rafferty is actually the second openly LGBTQ politician that Birmingham voters have tapped to the state lawmaking body. The woman he replaced, Patricia Todd, is a lesbian.

The Trevor Project said it would continue to support efforts to ban conversion therapy in every city and state across the country.

“The Trevor Project is deeply invested in ending conversion therapy… because we know youth who experience rejection from their family are more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide than youth from accepting families,” Amit Paley, the national youth suicide hotline’s CEO and executive director, said in a statement.

“Conversion therapy is a profoundly dangerous form of rejection with no basis in medicine or science,” he added.

Header image via Getty


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.