TAMPA — The city of Tampa isn’t ready to give up trying to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, a controversial and discredited treatment promoted by some religious groups as a way to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
City attorneys on Friday filed a notice of appeal in federal court, a first step toward asking an appellate court to overturn a U.S. district judge’s decision on Oct. 4 to strike down a citywide ban of the practice.
The city now has 45 days to file its challenge, which will be considered by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. City Attorney Gina Grimes declined to discuss the legal grounds on which the city will appeal, saying only that “we disagree with the court’s opinion.”
Tampa’s 2017 ban 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.
But U.S. District Judge William Jung overturned the ban on Oct. 4 saying that it conflicts with a patient’s right to privacy and a parent’s right to choose health care for their children. He said state medical boards that oversee the licensing of mental health professionals already serve as a check on any malpractice.
Jung also cited a 2009 American Psychological Association Task Force report that he said concluded that no study has come up with a clear picture of whether the practice produces either beneficial or harmful outcomes.
That interpretation was disputed by Clinton W. Anderson, interim executive director of the association, who said in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times that the report’s conclusion was that “there was insufficient scientific evidence to conclude that sexual orientation change efforts are effective.”
“Conversion therapy, as it is commonly called, could in fact pose harm, particularly to children and adolescents, as it may lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance use disorders,” Anderson wrote.
The legal challenge to Tampa’s ban was filed by Liberty Counsel, a Christian evangelical legal advocacy group in Orlando. It sued 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. In September, a court ruled against the organization’s bid to overturn a statewide ban in Maryland.
The group has also represented Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk who made headlines in 2015 after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The Liberty Counsel advocates for “anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
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 organizations that have backed laws to protect children from the practice that some reports suggest increases the risk of suicide.
Almost 20 states have enacted restrictions of the practice.
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