Joshua Ceballos/Assistant News Director
UPDATE 10/03/17: The Miami-Dade Board if County Commissioners has turned down the Ordinance Banning Conversion Therapy in a four to seven vote, citing overly broad language conflicting with parents’ rights. You can find the original article below:
Miami-Dade county legislators have proposed an ordinance with the aim of controlling the kind of therapy professionals can perform and are prepared to threaten them with fines should their practices violate the upcoming legislation.
The “Ordinance Banning Conversion Therapy,” drafted in July of 2017, will give the county the authority to fine and persecute any “person who is licensed or is not licensed by the state to provide professional counseling,” who performs conversion therapy on a minor who identifies as LGBTQ, according to the ordinance.
The fine will be $500 on the first offense, $1000 on the second, and subsequent instances can be met with injunctive action in court.
Miami-Dade County defines conversion therapy in the ordinance as “any counseling, practice, or treatment performed with the goal of changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity… or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”
Howard Wasserman, a professor of law at the FIU College of Law, said that Miami-Dade is only following suit with what other states have done in regards to conversion therapy.
“What they’re basically trying to do is prohibit the promotion of this as a therapy by licensed therapists as an approved mental health procedure,” said Wasserman. “You can’t be a psychologist… or some other mental health professional and advertise that you provide this service.”
Wasserman said that the government does not believe that conversion therapy is a legitimate procedure as homosexuality is being less perceived as a mental illness, and compared this therapy in the government’s eyes to a doctor advertising exorcism or “bleeding with leeches.”
Several states– including California and Vermont– according to the Movement Advancement Project, have passed legislation banning this practice because of emerging cases of individuals suffering from harm from their mental well being due to conversion therapy.
The legislators stated in the body of the ordinance that the American Psychological Association published a study “which it concluded that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, including confusion, depression… and a sense of having wasted time and resources.”
Detractors to this ordinance have come up arguing that the legislation is a major threat to freedom of speech and to the Constitution.
Anthony Verdugo, the executive director of the Christian Family Coalition of Florida, is one of the more vocal opponents to the ordinance banning conversion therapy.
“[The ordinance] would ban counsel, a conversation with minors who are struggling with unwanted homosexual and transexual issues,” said Verdugo.
The issue, for Verdugo, arises in the cases in which a young person seeks counseling for feelings that they are confused about, as the ordinance would prevent any kind of conversation with a professional that is not affirming the person’s sexual identity that they might not be sure of.
“It is the government engaging in censorship and blatant viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional,” Verdugo said.
Verdugo compared the actions of the government with this ordinance to be similar to those in totalitarian regimes such as in Cuba, where the government has control over the speech of civilians and professionals alike, and it has legal authority to punish those individuals should they say something out of turn.
In the ordinance it is stated that “a person who is licensed or is not licensed by the state to provide professional counseling… shall not engage in conversion therapy or reparative therapy with a minor.”
This particular passage, “licensed or is not licensed,” Verdugo believes is particularly dangerous because unlicensed persons would mean anyone, so this could potentially infringe on the freedom of any civilian individual to engage in a conversation that could be considered conversion therapy, such as an interaction between a religious leader and a minor who is not sure what their romantic feelings are.
Miami-Dade County is set to put the ordinance up to a full commission vote this month, however Verdugo said that they have no right to do so.
“Miami-Dade County and the Board of County Commissioners does not have the authority to enact this legislation… because they are not a medical board. They do not issue licenses for medical professionals,” said Verdugo.
The state does regulate medical licenses from a legal standpoint, however, according to professor Wasserman.
Speaking on the dangers that this legislation poses to the free speech of civilians, Wasserman stated, “It’s directed at professionals. I can do what I want in just having a conversation with somebody… I’m not performing these procedures in any professional context.”
Many Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners meetings were cancelled this month because of the hurricane,according to the commission calendar found at miamidade.gov, but. discussions over this conversion therapy ordinance are expected to resume within September or October as the county returns to normal operations.