Phil Courson wasn’t happy as the Alachua County Commission talked about passing an ordinance to outlaw conversion therapy Tuesday morning.
“There are people who have been harmed by it, but I have seen people who have been helped by it,” Courson, 58, said during public comments. “To call it child abuse is ridiculous.”
Commissioners decided to discuss the ordinance that would outlaw conversion therapy at the general policy discussion meeting, where commissioners discuss issues and possible future policies.
A public hearing on outlawing the form of counseling to change minor’s sexual orientation throughout the county could be held later this month once commissioners study the bill and make revisions.
County officials are not sure how many conversion therapy practitioners are in the county.
Conversion therapy was banned in Gainesville by a unanimous city commission vote in April.
County attorney staff advised to increase the first-time offense fine from $125 to $1,000 for practitioners who continue conversion therapy and a $500 fine after that.
Commissioners were largely in favor of the ordinance. Commissioner Ken Cornell asked what authority the county would have if organizations such as churches continue this practice.
County attorney Sylvia Torres said she did not think the government could regulate the teachings of a church or allowing those teachings to influence their tax-exempt status.
Bruce Blackwell, 77, of Gainesville, attended the meeting to support the ordinance. As a gay man, he said he had no LGBTQ+community growing up. He didn’t know any gay people until he met his late husband of 51 years.
“I don’t think my love is a big deal,” he said. “I have to stand with these people to try and get this righted.”