Tampa council wants high penalties for violating proposed ban on gay conversion therapy for minors
The Tampa City Council on Thursday moved to ban mental health professionals from providing minors with so-called gay conversion therapy, and proposed what could be the highest penalties in Florida for those who do.
State-licensed therapists and counselors could be fined $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for repeat offenses under the proposed Tampa ordinance, which is scheduled for the first of two votes on March 16.
By comparison, West Palm Beach, which Tampa used as a model for its ordinance, created a ban punishable by a $200 fine for a first violation and a $500 fine for subsequent violations. Violations of similar bans are punishable by fines of $500 in Miami, $200 in Miami Beach and $200 in Wilton Manors.
Council member Guido Maniscalco, who proposed the ban, said a higher penalty would send a “strong message.”
“It needs to hurt the pocketbook,” council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said.
Tampa's ordinance would apply to doctors, osteopaths, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage or family therapists and licensed counselors. It would not apply to clergy unless they offered themselves as a state-licensed mental health professional.
Council member Harry Cohen also noted that it wouldn’t affect “quacks” who offer the services on an unlicensed basis, something like the way tarot card readers do business, and suggested that the city consider addressing that in the future.
“The people who we are intending to hit with this may have a loophole that they can crawl through, which is that they are not licensed providers,” Cohen said.
The ordinance would define conversion therapy as any counseling, practice or treatment aimed at changing someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. That includes efforts to change behaviors, expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions. It does not include counseling for someone undergoing a gender transition or that provides acceptance, support or understanding.
The council’s unanimous vote came after a couple of dozen supporters of the ban told the council that conversion therapy, also known as reparative or reorientation therapy, is harmful and associated with higher incidences of suicide among those exposed to the practice.
It’s been called ineffective, based on flawed assumptions or risky by professional groups that include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychoanalytic Association and American College of Physicians.
In a statement to the council, Equality Florida called the practice fraudulent and dangerous.
“As a gay kid, I began suffering from suicidal ideation at the age of 10, without even exposure to conversion therapy,” said Jaime Sykes, 21, of Tampa. “So when you concentrate society’s hatred and bigotry that we’re already dealing with, and directing it at fixing LGBTQ-plus kids who are not broken, you are destroying life, and if you do not stop it we are all complicit in the physical and psychological murder of our youth.”
Aaron Munoz, 27, said he's a transgender man whose family tried for years to raise him as a female. Once he was sent away for the summer to return to find that all of his clothes and belongings had been destroyed and replaced by a princess-themed world that didn’t fit him. He was made to cut up favorite clothes and “conditioned every day to be anyone but who I was.”
As a result, Munoz said he attempted suicide four times by the time he was 18 and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“No amount of brainwashing or abuse or conditioning or peer pressure or anything along those lines can change who a person is,” he told the council. “Suicide’s the leading cause of death among LGBTQ children and I was almost one of them. Breaking a child’s spirit never leads to anything good. Please do not legalize child abuse, and please let my community know that we are safe and we are welcome here in the city of Tampa.”
No one spoke against the proposal, though at a previous council meeting conservative Christian activist Terry Kemple, conversion therapy advocate Mark Culligan and several other opponents urged the city to drop the idea.