Contact: Wayne Besen

Truth Wins Out Denounces Federal Ruling That Strikes Down Florida Conversion Therapy Ban

Misguided Concern Over Free Speech Leaves Children Captive to Child Abuse

PHILADELPHIA – In a 2-1 decision, an 11th Circuit panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ban on the destructive practice of conversion therapy for minors. In doing so, they gave the green light to child abuse and consumer fraud that is rejected be every mainstream medical and mental health association in the country. The majority of the panel fell for the specious and convoluted argument that “ex-gay” therapy is free speech, when it is really ideologically-based malpractice disguised as legitimate medicine.

“This in an atrocious decision that confuses consumer fraud and medical malpractice with authentic ‘free speech’,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen. “Conversion therapists are not merely opinionated Internet trolls or ideologues whose homophobic rantings and musings have few real world consequences. This bizarre ruling will shatter lives and rip off consumers by allowing charlatans to peddle a bogus product that never works and leads to severe depression and even death, particularly among LGBTQ youth. The fight against these malignant groups will continue until we shut down every last one.”

Conversion therapy advocates Robert Otto, Julie Hamilton and other right wing anti-gay extremists successfully challenged the constitutionality of ordinances in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton that banned the worthless and dangerous practice. The majority opinion overturned a lower-court decision and ordered that preliminary injunctions be entered against the ordinances. Grant and Lagoa, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, were appointed to the Atlanta-based appeals court by President Donald Trump. Martin was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

“This decision allows speech that many find concerning — even dangerous,” said the 27-page majority opinion, written by Judge Britt Grant and joined by Judge Barbara Lagoa. “But consider the alternative. If the speech restrictions in these ordinances can stand, then so can their inverse. Local communities could prevent therapists from validating a client’s same-sex attractions if the city council deemed that message harmful. And the same goes for gender transition — counseling supporting a client’s gender identification could be banned. It comes down to this: If the plaintiffs’ perspective is not allowed here, then the defendants’ perspective can be banned elsewhere. People have intense moral, religious, and spiritual views about these matters — on all sides. And that is exactly why the First Amendment does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender.”

But Judge Beverly Martin, in a 20-page dissent, wrote that the county and city “have validly identified a compelling government interest in protecting minors from a harmful medical practice.”

“The majority is correct to say this case implicates sensitive considerations about when and how government bodies may regulate speech. Instances in which a speech restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest are deservedly rare. But they do exist,” Martin wrote. “I believe the localities’ narrow regulation of a harmful medical practice affecting vulnerable minors falls within the narrow band of permissibility.”

“The notion that government can’t regulate a harmful medical practice with a long and established track record of harming youth is specious and preposterous,” said Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen. “Parents don’t have the right to engage in child abuse, and that is precisely the definition of conversion therapy. Indeed, conversion therapy is not really therapy at all in the traditional sense. It is cruel religious indoctrination designed to exacerbate shame, with a patina of medical language hitched on to make the psychological trauma more palatable to the public. There are no happy outcomes with such so-called therapy and a trail of victims whose lives have been destroyed.”

“The ordinances thus codify a particular viewpoint — sexual orientation is immutable, but gender is not — and prohibit the therapists from advancing any other perspective when counseling clients,” Grant wrote. “That viewpoint may be widely shared in the communities that passed the ordinances, but widespread agreement is beside the point; the question is whether a speaker’s viewpoint determines his license to speak. Here, the answer is yes.”

“We can’t reiterate enough, that a therapist is not simply a ‘speaker’,” said Besen. “The therapist is not some person shouting Bible verses on a street corner or a talk radio host spewing hate speech. A therapist is a licensed medical professional who has taken an oath to first ‘do no harm’. Conversion therapy is nothing, if not harm disguised as help by ideologues who are bilking their clients.”

Every respected medical and mental health organization in the world considers attempts to change sexual orientation potentially dangerous. The American Psychiatric Association says that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) can lead to “anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior”, including suicide. The American Psychological Association says, “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” Such “therapy” is considered so detrimental that sixteen states and the District of Colombia ban practicing it on minors.

According Dr. Caitlin Ryan’s study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “LGBT teens who were highly rejected by their families were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs.” (Caitlin Ryan, San Francisco State University, June 2009).

Another study by Dr. Ryan, who also directs the Family Acceptance Project, reports:
“Parent-initiated attempts to change participant’s sexual orientation during adolescence were associated with more negative mental health problems for young adults.”(Journal of Homosexuality, Nov. 2018)

Founded in 2006, Truth Wins Out is a nonprofit think tank and advocacy organization that fights against right wing extremism, the “ex-gay” myth and anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination.