Born Perfect Praises City of Tallahassee for Passing Ordinance to End Conversion Therapy

Unanimous vote by Tallahassee City Council ensures that LGBTQ youth and vulnerable adults in Florida capital will be protected from this harmful practice

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (April 10, 2020) — On Thursday, the Tallahassee City Council unanimously passed the state’s most inclusive ordinance to protect minors and vulnerable adults from conversion therapy – the harmful practice that seeks to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In addition to providing that licensed mental health professionals may not perform conversion therapy on minors or vulnerable adults, the ordinance prohibits the use of city funds to pay for  the practice that has been widely condemned by every leading medical and mental health organization in this country. The Tallahassee ordinance is now the most robust restriction against the practice in the state of Florida.

The City of Tallahassee joins more than 70 municipalities, 20 states, and the District of Columbia that have adopted similar protections.  

With the passage of the Tallahassee ordinance, Florida now has more than 20 local laws protecting minors from conversion therapy—more than any other state in the country.

Survivor’s perspective

“The continued efforts by legislators across the state to protect LGBTQ youth are lifesaving,” said Mathew Shurka, Co-Founder and Chief Strategist of Born Perfect. “Conversion therapy destroys families and causes serious harm to minors, sometimes leading to suicide. We are grateful to the Tallahassee City Councilors who passed this ordinance unanimously. Their vote sends a powerful message to every child that they are born perfect.”

Last year, conversion therapists represented by Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based organization designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, challenged three of Florida’s local protections in two separate federal lawsuits.

Defending other Florida bans

In February 2019, US District Judge Robin Rosenberg upheld the local laws passed in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton. Judge Rosenberg rejected Liberty Counsel’s argument that the laws violated the right to free speech and freedom of religion, citing “extensive credible evidence of the damage that conversion therapy inflicts.”  The case is Otto v. City of Boca Raton.

In October 2019, in one of his first major rulings since being appointed to the bench by President Trump, US District Judge William Fung struck down Tampa’s local law. Judge Fung held that Florida cities do not have the power to regulate mental health providers, which he said belongs exclusively to the state. The case is Vazzo v. City of Tampa.

Both of these lower court rulings are on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals. The Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments in Otto on February 11, 2020.  A ruling is expected any time.  Oral arguments in Vazzo have not yet been scheduled.    

Legal outlook

“The Tallahassee City Council has shown much-needed courage and leadership in standing up for LGBTQ youth in the face of vicious attacks by Liberty Counsel and other hate-based groups that promote dangerous lies and misinformation about LGBTQ people,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which provided legal support to the Florida cities defending their bans. “Contrary to the false messages of these groups, being LGBTQ is a natural part of the spectrum of human identity. All children deserve love and support, and the City of Tallahassee did the right thing in protecting minors in Tallahassee from this devastating practice.”  

For more than 25 years, NCLR has been leading the fight against conversion therapy. Since 2014, NCLR’s Born Perfect Campaign has brought survivors and legal experts together to pass  legislation protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, to assist states and local governments in defending these bans when they are challenged by anti-LGBT hate groups, and to bring lawsuits holding conversion therapists accountable for defrauding and harming patients.

Momentum on this work continues to build, with a record-breaking number of states and localities taking action to protect youth in the past 12 months, including UtahNorth Carolina, Kansas City, Missouri, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most recently, legislation was passed in Virginia – the first Southern state to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful practice.

According to the Williams Institute from UCLA Law, more than 350,000 LGBTQ minors have been subjected to the dangerous practice of “Conversion Therapy,” which studies have linked to these youth being more than twice as likely to experience depression, and nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

NCLR Settles Consumer Fraud Lawsuit over Conversion Therapy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2019

Contact: Perry Sacks, psacks@mrss.com, (917) 438-4619

SAN FRANCISCO—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), along with co-counsel Arnold & Porter, announced a settlement in a lawsuit filed by their client, Kate McCobb, that alleged a California-licensed therapist subjected her to conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy has been discredited by every major medical and mental health organization—including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association—as dangerous and unethical. The settlement follows a California court ruling affirming that conversion therapy may constitute consumer fraud. Terms of the settlement are confidential.

“Being a young LGBTQ person can be an overwhelming and isolating experience,” said the plaintiff in this case, Kate McCobb. “I am relieved to have this case behind me so that I can focus on educating other LGBTQ people about the dangers of conversion therapy.”

Although the therapist denies liability in this case, he has stated that he shares Ms. McCobb’s view of conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy has been shown to lead to increased risk of depression, substance abuse, and even suicide,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “Those across the country who continue to push the myth of conversion therapy should take note: you are engaging in consumer fraud, and we will stand with conversion therapy survivors and help them recoup every dollar.”

Although Ms. McCobb did not seek therapy because of her sexual orientation, the therapist nonetheless focused on her lesbian identity. According to Ms. McCobb, she was told that being a lesbian was unnatural and that she could change her sexual orientation. She was urged to change her appearance to be more stereotypically feminine, including losing weight, growing out her hair, changing her wardrobe, and wearing make-up, and to begin dating men.

“My firm took this case on a pro bono basis because conversion therapy isn’t just ineffective, it’s dangerous,” said Arnold & Porter Partner Jeremy Kamras. “Hopefully this lawsuit will help to end this practice by putting medical professionals on notice that, if they engage in harmful, discredited conversion therapy, they can be subject to civil liability.”

NCLR has been standing up for conversion therapy survivors for more than 20 years. In June 2014, NCLR launched the Born Perfect Campaign to End Conversion Therapy through litigation, public education, and legislation.


The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) was the first national LGBTQ legal organization founded by women and brings a fierce, longstanding commitment to racial and economic justice and our community’s most vulnerable. Since 1977, NCLR has been at the forefront of advancing the civil and human rights of our full LGBTQ community and their families through impact litigation, public policy, and public education. Decades ago, NCLR led the way by establishing the first LGBTQ Immigration Project, Transgender Rights Project, Youth Project, Elder Law Project, and began working to end conversion therapy through what is now the Born Perfect campaign.

www.nclrights.org

After Hate Group Sues Tampa to Overturn Prohibition of Dangerous Conversion Therapy for Minors, Equality Florida Files Motion to Defend the Ban Alongside the City of Tampa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2018
Contacts:
Elizabeth Johnson, SPLC
334-224-0059 / elizabeth.johnson@splcenter.org
Lauren Gray, NCLR
215-983-3099 / lgray@nclrights.org
Brittany Link, Equality Florida
678-634-5566 / brittany@equalityflorida.org

EQUALITY FLORIDA SAYS THE ORDINANCE PROTECTS YOUTH FROM THE “DECEPTIVE AND UTTERLY DISCREDITED PRACTICE OF SO-CALLED CONVERSION THERAPY”

TAMPA, Fla. – Equality Florida seeks to defend the City of Tampa’s ban on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy for minors against a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT hate group. A motion for Equality Florida to intervene was filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firm Carlton Fields.

Conversion therapy – sometimes called “ex-gay therapy” – attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and every other major professional health organization as ineffective, unethical and dangerous. Conversion therapy has been shown to lead to higher instances of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide.

As the state’s largest civil rights organization advocating on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, Equality Florida played an integral role in the passage of Tampa’s ordinance, which prohibits licensed mental health professionals from performing conversion therapy on minors. The City of Tampa unanimously passed the ban in April 2017.

In December, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against the city, challenging the ban on behalf of Robert Vazzo and David Pickup – two licensed therapists who want to subject minors to conversion therapy – citing an alleged First Amendment violation. While Vazzo is licensed to practice in Florida, Pickup is not.

“Conversion therapy has been discredited by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations, and worse, it causes real harm to those exposed to it,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the SPLC. “When the City of Tampa adopted this ordinance last year, it chose to shield LGBTQ youth from this heinous practice and its harmful effects. We support Equality Florida’s stand to ensure that the well-being of these children remains protected.”

Equality Florida today filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in the case alongside the City of Tampa, citing a direct and unique interest in the case. Equality Florida also filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, explaining that two federal circuit courts already have rejected similar constitutional challenges to near identical bans on conversion therapy. Finally, Equality Florida filed an opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, demonstrating the significant harms that could befall Tampa’s youth if the ban on conversion therapy is enjoined and the plaintiffs are permitted to engage in conversion therapy.

“At Equality Florida, we fight to protect LGBTQ families and children, which is why participating in this lawsuit is at the core of our mission as Florida’s statewide LGBTQ organization,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida. “We worked closely with the City of Tampa, elected leaders, and members of the community to ensure LGBTQ young people are protected from this deceptive and utterly discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy.”

Liberty Counsel is known for filing litigation challenging the expansion of equal rights for the LGBTQ community – from defending anti-LGBTQ discrimination in businesses to fighting marriage equality. The SPLC identifies the Orlando-based organization as an anti-LGBT hate group.

Liberty Counsel has unsuccessfully challenged conversion therapy bans across the country. Following a 2012 challenge by Liberty Counsel, California’s statewide ban was upheld by a federal appeals court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. It also challenged New Jersey’s law banning conversion therapy, which the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand on two occasions.

The plaintiffs in the suit against Tampa – Vazzo and Pickup – also are veterans in the fight against conversion therapy bans. Both were plaintiffs in Liberty Counsel’s failed challenge of the conversion therapy ban in California, where both men have offices. Though Vazzo is licensed in the state of Florida, his offices are in Las Vegas and Culver City, Calif. Pickup, who is not licensed in Florida, has offices in Dallas and Los Angeles.

“Tampa has every right to protect its residents against unethical therapists who disregard the strong medical consensus that attempts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are not only ineffective, but dangerous,” said Carolyn Reyes, NCLR youth policy counsel who directs BornPerfect, NCLR’s national campaign to protect young people from the harms caused by conversion therapy. “Courts across the country have upheld these laws as valid regulations designed to protect vulnerable children from the serious harms caused by these unethical practices, and we are confident that Tampa’s law will be upheld as well.”

Equality Florida is committed to defending its 302,000 supporters, including those protected by the ban in Tampa and by other similar local ordinances. More than a dozen local governments in Florida – both cities and counties – have adopted conversion therapy bans, which is more than in any other state. After a unanimous vote on Tuesday, Broward County – Florida’s second largest county by population – became the most recent locality to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the harmful practice.

Motion to Intervene: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/amended_motion_to_intervene.pdf

Motion On Preliminary Injunction: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/amended_opposition_to_motion_for_preliminary_injunction.pdf

Motion to Dismiss: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/motion_to_dismiss.pdf


The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. 

Equality Florida Institute is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. For additional information, visit www.equalityflorida.org.  

Carlton Fields has more than 300 attorneys and government and financial services consultants serving clients from offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Washington, D.C. The firm is known for its national litigation practice, including class action defense, trial practice, white-collar representation, and high-stakes appeals; its insurance practice, including life and financial lines, property and casualty, reinsurance, and title insurance; its regulatory practice; and its handling of sophisticated business transactions and corporate counseling for domestic and international clients. The firm is committed to providing pro bono representation for the people and causes that most need them. For additional information, visit www.carltonfields.com and www.carltonfields.com/pro-bono/.  (Carlton Fields practices law in California through Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, LLP.)


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

NCLR files consumer fraud lawsuit against Berkeley therapist for conversion therapy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:
Lauren Gray
Director of Communications
National Center for Lesbian Rights
Office: 415.365.1324
Mobile: 215.983.3099
LGray@nclrights.org


CONSUMER FRAUD LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST BERKELEY THERAPIST FOR CHARGING TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR DISCREDITED CONVERSION THERAPY

Therapist pressured lesbian client to change her sexual orientation, shamed her, urged her to change her clothes and appearance and begin dating a man

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (July 13, 2017)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP filed a complaint on behalf of Katherine McCobb, against California-licensed marriage and family therapist Lloyd Willey. Willey told McCobb that being a lesbian is unnatural and pathological and that her sexual orientation could be changed using therapy. The practice of conversion therapy has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and other professional counseling organizations as ineffective, unethical, and dangerous. McCobb paid Willey more than $70,000 for eight years of therapy based on fraudulent, harmful lies.

“Therapists who exploit vulnerable people by taking their money based on false claims that being lesbian or gay is unnatural and that counseling can change a person’s sexual orientation are engaging in fraud,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Price Minter. “Our complaint alleges that our client in this case paid tens of thousands of dollars based on false promises that therapy could change her attraction to women. Charging a person money based on such bald-faced misrepresentations violates California’s consumer protection laws.”

“Business professionals who are charging fees for services cannot make false and misleading statements about those services to their clients,” said Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP Partner Jeremy Kamras. “Our complaint alleges that the defendant did just that by persuading a vulnerable client to pay him for services based on blatant misrepresentations and fraudulent practices.”

McCobb began paying Willey for therapy when she was 25 years old. Although she did not seek out therapy because of her sexual orientation, Willey fixated on McCobb’s lesbian identity and began to pressure her to become straight, telling her that being a lesbian was unnatural and that she could “rewire” her brain. He publicly shamed her during group therapy sessions and urged her to change her appearance to be more stereotypically feminine, including losing weight, growing out her hair, changing her wardrobe, and wearing make-up. Willey also pressured her to begin dating a man who was also Willey’s client.

“I trusted my therapist, and I was defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars as a result,” said the plaintiff in this case, Katherine McCobb.

NCLR has been working to protect LGBTQ people from efforts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity for more than 20 years. In June 2014, NCLR launched #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy, a targeted campaign to end conversion therapy through litigation, public education, and  legislation.

To read the complaint, click here.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

New Jersey Jury Finds JONAH Guilty of Consumer Fraud

A Day After President’s Condemnation Of Conversion Therapy, Jury Reaches Verdict

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (June 25, 2015)—After hours of deliberations, a New Jersey jury found Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) liable for consumer fraud. JONAH, a group that promised gay men that it would turn them into heterosexuals, was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012 under New Jersey’s consumer fraud law.

The closely-watched trial unveiled the deplorable and inhumane techniques JONAH used to “convert” the men. The verdict comes on the heels of President Obama’s remarks on Wednesday—at the annual White House Pride reception—about conversion therapy: “I support efforts to ban conversion therapy for minors.  It has no basis in science. Every young person—no matter who they are or what they look like or what gender they identify as—deserves to be valued and loved for who they are.”

Statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Stoll:

“Today’s verdict is a major victory in the fight to end the shameful and deceptive practice of conversion therapy. Too often, vulnerable young people and their families are lured into believing the false promises offered by groups like JONAH that they can “cure” gay people by changing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Today’s verdict sends a clear message to those who seek to prey on the fears of those who are just beginning to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity: if you falsely promise a non-existent “cure” for a disease that does not exist, you will be held responsible. We congratulate our colleagues at the Southern Poverty Law Center for this important victory.” 

NCLR has been at the forefront of efforts to protect youth and their families from conversion therapy for more than two decades and, alongside the Human Rights Campaign and state equality groups, has helped pass legislation in California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. NCLR launched its #BornPerfect campaign last year to stop conversion therapy across the country by 2019 by passing laws, fighting in courtrooms, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by attempts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Federal Appeals Court Upholds New Jersey Law Prohibiting Conversion Therapy for Minors

COURT REJECTS ANTI-LGBT GROUPS’ CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES TO LAW

TRENTON, N.J. (September 11, 2014)—Today, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit unanimously upheld a 2013 New Jersey law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression or identity of patients under 18 years old. The Court held that the New Jersey law does not violate the First Amendment and that the State of New Jersey was entitled to prohibit these discredited practices in order to protect minors from harm. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a similar California law last year.

The New Jersey law prohibits licensed therapists from subjecting minor patients to “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), which the law defines as the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender.”

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith held that “over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of SOCE, expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm,” and that “[m]any such organizations have also concluded that there is no credible evidence that SOCE counseling is effective.”

The constitutionality of the New Jersey law was challenged in August 2013 in a lawsuit filed by anti-LGBT groups primarily representing therapists who engage in the prohibited practices. The case was assigned to federal district judge Freda Wolfson, who held that the law was a valid exercise of the state’s authority to regulate medical professionals to protect public health and safety. That ruling was appealed and heard by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit in July 2014.

While applying a higher standard of review, the Third Circuit upheld Judge Wolfson’s judgment that the law is constitutional, stating: “Legislatures are entitled to rely on the empirical judgments of independent professional organizations that possess specialized knowledge and experience concerning the professional practice under review, particularly when this community has spoken with such urgency and solidarity on the subject.”

In the fall of 2013, Garden State Equality filed a successful motion to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the law alongside New Jersey Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, who represents the State of New Jersey defendants. Garden State Equality is represented in the case by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Gluck Walrath LLP. David Flugman of Kirkland & Ellis argued the case on behalf of Garden State Equality.

“The court’s decision today is a major victory for the thousands of young people who will now be protected from these dangerous and horrific practices,” said Andrea Bowen, Garden State Equality’s executive director. “No one should subject minors to conversion therapy—least of all state-licensed clinicians responsible for the care and well-being of their patients.”

Shannon Minter, NCLR’s Legal Director, said “This decision means that New Jersey youth will continue being protected from cruel and damaging practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health professional organizations. The court of appeals’ ruling makes clear that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. We thank Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, Deputy Attorney General Susan Marie Scott, and the entire legal team at the Office of the Attorney General for their work defending this essential law.”

The New Jersey law, known as Assembly Bill A3371, had seventeen primary and co-sponsors in the Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on August 19, 2013. In the Governor’s Statement Upon Signing, Governor Christie noted the “critical health risks” posed by conversion therapy, including “depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”

Learn more about the case.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.