A judge in Florida struck down Tampa's ordinance outlawing the use of conversion therapy on minors in a ruling issued Friday. In his decision, Judge William Fung argued that the city doesn't have the authority to ban the practice and said that Tampa has "never before substantively regulated and disciplined the practice of medicine, psychotherapy, or mental health treatment within city limits."
The ruling in Florida stems from a lawsuit filed by Robert Vazzo and New Heart Outreach, a Christian faith-based conversion therapy practice in Tampa Bay. The lawsuit follows the passage of a 2017 ordinance banning medical professionals from attempting to "cure" the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ+ young people.
Conversion therapy refers to a broad, loosely defined range of practices from shock treatment to talk therapy and "praying the gay away." Nearly every leading medical organization throughout the country -- including the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association -- has roundly condemned it as harmful to minors. These groups have also expressed support for legislation to protect children from it.
In a statement, Equality Florida spoke out against last week's ruling, suggesting it could lead to the repeal of other ordinances in the state. Although less than a quarter of the state's population are safeguarded from conversion therapy under local laws, Florida also leads the nation in the number of city and county municipalities that have passed ordinances to ban conversion therapy.
"The decision for Tampa stands completely alone in its reasoning," said Jon Harris Maurer, director of public policy at Equality Florida. "Regardless of this decision, experts agree that conversion therapy is a dangerous and sometimes deadly practice, and we know it is still routinely practiced on children and teens in Florida."
While Fung said there had been no reported instances of conversion therapy in the Tampa area, advocates believe the practice's harms are so dangerous that it should be banned regardless. According to a study released by the Trevor Project in June, conversion therapy survivors are twice as likely thoose who have not undergone the practice to have contemplated ending their lives in the past year. That number includes 57 percent of trans or nonbinary people who have been subjected to conversion therapy at some point in their lives.