1. News
  2. /
  3. Tampa

Tampa’s ban on conversion therapy struck down by federal judge

It’s not the city’s job to regulate health care treatments like therapy, says the judge, who also expressed concern about the violation of parents’ rights.
A federal judge has struck down Tampa's 2017 ban on so-called conversion therapy. The practice has been promoted by some religious groups as a way to a way to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. [ALLEN, WILLIE J., JR. | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 4
Updated Oct. 4

TAMPA — A federal judge has struck down Tampa’s ban on so-called conversion therapy, a treatment promoted by some religious groups as a way to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.S. District Judge William Jung ruled Friday that the law, enacted in 2017, may conflict with a patient’s right to privacy and a parent’s right to choose health care for their children. Jung said state medical boards that oversee the licensing of mental health professionals already serve as a check on any malpractice.

“Substantive regulation of psychotherapy is a state, not a municipal concern,” Jung wrote in a 50-page opinion.

The law, enacted by City Council in 2017, was intended to protect young people from the practice, typically used on children who come out as gay or who identify as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth.

RELATED STORY: Lawsuit attempts to end conversion therapy ban in Tampa

It was challenged by Liberty Counsel, a Christian evangelical legal advocacy group based in Orlando. It sued the city in December 2017 on behalf of two licensed therapists, one of whom was later dismissed from the case because he did not practice in Florida. It is also challenging similar bans in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County.

“Regulating health care is above the pay grade of local municipalities,” Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman, said in a statement. “This ruling dooms every municipality in Florida and is the beginning of the end of more than 50 similar local laws around the country.”

Tampa City Attorney Gina Grimes said the city will consult with its outside counsel before deciding whether to appeal the ruling. She said its ban was modeled on one in Boca Raton, which was upheld after a similar legal challenge. That case is headed to an appellate court.

“The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the city’s ordinance prohibiting conversion therapy. Instead, it found that the states’ health care regulations prevent municipalities from regulating this type of counseling,” Grimes said.

Tampa City Attorney Gina Grimes. [CITY OF TAMPA | ]

Liberty is also behind a legal challenge to a statewide ban enacted in Maryland. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit last month, leaving the ban intact. The group also represented Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk who made headlines in 2015 after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Conversion therapy has been deemed ineffective by mental health experts and broadly derided as potentially harmful. In some cases, it has been reinforced with electric shock therapy.

The American Academy of Pediatrics,the American Counseling Association, the National Education Association, the National Association of School Psychologists and the Child Welfare League of America are among the groups that have backed laws to protect children from the practice that some reports suggest increases the risk of suicide.

Tampa’s ban on ‘conversion therapy’ has its day in court

But Jung, the judge, cited a 2009 American Psychological Association Task Force report that concluded that no study has come up with a clear picture of whether the practice produces either beneficial or harmful outcomes. And Tampa does not regulate similar health care related services such as massage therapy, acupuncture, optometry, tattoo parlors and medical labs, he wrote.

Tampa’s law was intended to target cases where therapists have a predetermined goal of converting children into being heterosexual or to the gender identity assigned to them at birth.

Therapists and counselors who offer the therapy to minors would have faced a $1,000 fine for a first offense and a $5,000 penalty for subsequent violations. It would have been enforced by city code enforcement officers.

The United States Supreme Court has previously upheld an appellate court decision allowing New Jersey’s anti-conversion therapy law to remain in effect. It also refused to hear challenges to California’s ban.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.

Friday’s ruling still leaves open the right for Florida lawmakers to enact a statewide ban on the therapy, said Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, a group that advocates for the rights of Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

“What is clear from this ruling is that conversion therapy bans that protect children from this dangerous quackery are not unconstitutional," she said. “Florida should join the states that have eliminated this debunked and dangerous practice."


  1. Check for the latest breaking news and developments.
    It’s unclear when the Mazda driver started driving the wrong way on the interstate, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
  2. A surveillance photo of an alleged gunman in Tampa shared by the Tampa Police Department on Saturday, October 12, 2019. The shooter allegedly seriously injured an 18-year-old outside the Fat Boy grocery on the 1300 block of E Osborne Avenue, police say. Tampa Police Department
    The shooter was with a young boy, police said.
  3. Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic steps out of the federal courthouse in Tampa in during the 2017 federal trial of her sexual discrimination case against the city of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON   |   Times]
    Tanja Vidovic will run against incumbent Joe Ayoub in the city’s March 2020 elections.
  4. A dinner guest at the Maritana Grille at the Don Cesar Hotel contends in a lawsuit filed Friday that she was seriously injured when a waiter poured some of the liquid nitrogen that he was using to prepare a dessert at an adjacent table into her water glass and she drank it. (Times file photo)
    Stacey Wagers contends she was injured while dining at the Maritana Grille last year.
  5. A Tampa company has spent nearly $8.8 million acquiring 180 acres north of Shell Point Road in Ruskin. Susan Taylor Martin
    We find the answers in our continuing look at new construction in the Tampa Bay area.
  6. A group portrait of hospital staff on the steps of the Biglow-Helms Mansion back when it was the Bayside Hospital in 1920. This photo is from the Burgert Brothers collection. Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.
    Maybe you recognize the mysterious gray stone home. Here’s the story behind the Biglow-Helms mansion.
  7. Trucks docked at the Sam's Club eCommerce center in South Tampa wait to be unloaded by workers, who sort and and prepare items for online orders. (SARA DINATALE | Times) SDINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Wallmart-owned building will be a hybrid distribution center and traditional retail store.
  8. Timothy McCausland, the city of Lakeland's longtime city attorney, was arrested in Brandon on Wednesday in an undercover prostitution sting, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
    Timothy McCausland was charged with violating a county ordinance prohibiting public solicitation, records show.
  9. Rekira Owens, a bus driver with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, greets officials from behind a newly installed shield as they board a bus Thursday in Tampa. The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed in Tampa this year. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The two transit agencies took action after a Hillsborough driver was stabbed and killed by a rider earlier this year.
  10. More organizations are using "Tampa Bay" in their names when they don't represent the whole area. (Times | 2010)
    The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is the latest to claim the Tampa Bay name for itself.