County Commission moves closer to outlawing conversion therapy
Bruce Blackwell, 77, of Gainesville, spoke in support of the conversion therapy ban. He said after hearing the story of a man who experienced suicidal thoughts after undergoing the therapy, it was up to him to right the wrongs of others.

Weeks after Alachua County’s conversion therapy ban became a countywide ordinance, members of Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group based in Orlando, are attempting to put a halt to its progression through legal action.

Roger Gannam, the assistant vice president of legal affairs for Liberty Counsel, said he does not agree that the term “conversion therapy” accurately conveys the form of therapy which has been banned. Instead, he describes this as a political term to describe the opinions of opponents of the ban who do not think they should affirm children who are experiencing attraction to the same sex or identify as a different gender identity.

“The vast majority of young people who either identify as transgender or who indicate that they're experiencing same-sex attractions will literally grow out of that,” Gannam said.

There is no evidence to support Gannam’s claims according to a 2009 report from the American Psychological Association.

Gannam said there are misconceptions about conversion therapy, usually involving the idea of a counselor telling children they must stop their same-sex attraction point-blank. In actual counseling rooms, counselors ask clients what their priorities are and what they want to change, Gannam said.

“The counselors we represent have seen time and time again where people who want to change same-sex attractions or reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction has some success in varying levels, and there's certainly no guarantee,” Gannam said. “There's no reliable evidence of harm from these practices.”

Gannam says it is an issue of the free speech of counselors to be able to counsel clients according to what the clients want.

“We just think these laws are based on no science, no facts, and they definitely violate the First Amendment rights of the counselors who are now prohibited from simply doing what their client asks,” Gannam said.

Before the implementation of this ban, the Alachua County Commission listened to experts, did extensive research, listened to testimonies and had multiple public hearings, Mark Sexton, Alachua County spokesperson, said.

This research helped them reach the conclusion that this type of approach to try to change a human being’s sexuality is incredibly damaging to a young person, Sexton said.

When it was first implemented in May, the ban extended to unincorporated areas within Alachua County, but a few weeks ago, the commissioners made it a countywide ordinance, Sexton said.

While this ban applies to licensed therapists, it does not extend to counseling by religious institutions. In short, the ban is limited to children under the age of 18 who are forced into this type of therapy with the specific intention of changing their sexuality, Sexton said.

“The bottom line is that the scientific community and every major psychological association and institution that deals with mental health agrees that, when homosexuality is treated as a disease, it's over,” Sexton said. “It is not something to be ashamed of and certainly not something to be cured.”

Editor's note: story has been updated to reflect that Liberty Counsel is a legal advocacy group not a Christian ministry group and that the APA study was published in 2009.

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