OPINION: Federal court decision harmful to Florida’s LGBTQ youth

Since the enforcement of local ordinances protecting LGBTQ minors was blocked Nov. 20 by a federal appeals court, many are worried Florida’s LGBTQ youth won’t be protected from poorly researched and potentially harmful methods of conversion therapy. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

A federal appeals court voted 2-1 on Nov. 20 to block the enforcement of local laws in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County prohibiting the use of therapy methods used to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ minors. 

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that ordinances established by the two cities meant to protect minors from being subjected to cruel “reparative therapy” were violations of therapists’ First Amendment rights. The ruling also nullifies all similar laws in Florida, Georgia and Alabama because 11th Circuit decisions extend to those states. 

This decision was one of malice and ignorance. Conversion therapy has been discredited by countless medical studies from institutions like the National Library of Medicine and Cornell University. 

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims said the method was modern-day torture. In an April 2020 report, the organization called for a global ban on the practice and said that it was the first step toward protecting youth LGBTQ members worldwide. This opinion draws a stark contrast from the actions of the appeals court.

The court argued that the wording of the law would allow for the opposite as well, that local communities could prevent therapists from affirming their clients “same-sex attractions” if the city council saw fit. In addition, counseling for a client’s gender transition could be banned as well. These are hypothetical situations that have never occurred, however.

Therapists practicing conversion therapy, on the other hand, have been known to resort to cruel and harmful tactics such as inducing nausea or providing electric shocks to the client. Despite the horrifying implications of convincing minors to receive therapy methods that are close to brainwashing, the American College of Pediatricians said it defends the court’s decision to block enforcement of laws meant to protect children.

“These licensed therapists provide life-saving counseling to youth who desperately desire to conform their attractions, behaviors and gender identities to biological reality,” the organization wrote in a Nov. 20 news release.

Lambda Legal, a New York City-based LGBTQ civil rights organization, condemned the decision. It argued the law was meant to protect minors from the harmful effects of conversion therapy, not to take away from helping straight and cisgendered clients.

CEO Kevin Jennings said it was not only ineffective but also permanently harmful to the person it was used on.

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing less than child abuse,” Jennings said in a statement released Nov. 20. “Youth are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of parents who don’t know or don’t believe that the efforts are harmful and doomed to fail.”

These laws once protected vulnerable individuals from being coerced into dangerous therapy tactics and regulated the conduct of these therapists. Minors all over Florida could now be convinced into thinking they need these dangerous practices by professionals they are told to trust.

Although not much research has been done on the subject, the dissenting judge, Beverly C. Martin, explained that thorough studies would put children at risk and therefore would be unethical, so obviously the practice itself should not be legal for the same reason. 

Medical professionals are regulated to make sure Floridians aren’t being subjected to damaging practices like conversion therapy. Although the situation looks grim for the LGBTQ community, Florida lawmakers still have a chance to protect them.

Palm Beach attorney Denise Nieman confirmed to the Palm Beach Post that before a full court, or all judges in the 11th Circuit, the Boca Raton City Council and Palm Beach County Commissioner’s Office can challenge the appeals court’s decision.

We can only hope the legislators consider the thousands of LGBTQ youth in Florida, Alabama and Georgia and act in their best interests to ensure no one is harmed for simply being themselves.