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.

Unanimous Vote: Florida County Protects LGBTQ Youth from Conversion Therapy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 9, 2018
Contact:
Lauren Gray, NCLR lgray@nclrights.org / (215) 983-3099

NCLR SAYS, “TODAY’S UNANIMOUS VOTE SPEAKS TO THE POWER OF SURVIVOR STORIES AND THE INDISPUTABLE EVIDENCE THAT CONVERSION THERAPY IS NOT ONLY INEFFECTIVE—IT DEVASTATES OUR YOUNG PEOPLE AND COMMUNITY”

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — (January 9, 2018) — Today, by unanimous vote, Florida’s Broward County voted to enact an ordinance to protect LGBTQ youth and prohibit the use of conversion therapy on minors. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) submitted testimony to Broward County on the urgent need to stop harmful, dangerous conversion therapy and worked alongside Equality Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center to push the ordinance forward. More municipalities in Florida have enacted ordinances prohibiting conversion therapy than in any other state.

“Today’s unanimous vote speaks to the power of survivor stories and the indisputable evidence that conversion therapy is not only ineffective—it devastates our young people and community,” said NCLR Youth Policy Counsel and Born Perfect Campaign Coordinator Carolyn Reyes. “NCLR is proud to have submitted testimony and worked hand in hand with Broward County, and NCLR’s Born Perfect campaign will keep working with states and local communities across the country to ensure that LGBTQ youth are protected—no matter where they live.”

Broward County, Florida, includes areas such as Fort Lauderdale, the Everglades, Hollywood, and Pompano Beach.

The practice of so-called “conversion therapy” 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.

NCLR has been standing up on behalf of survivors of conversion therapy for the past 20 years. In 2014, NCLR launched its Born Perfect campaign, marking a commitment to a state-by-state advocacy campaign to end this practice across the country. NCLR has secured legislation protecting youth from these dangerous practices in California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, Connecticut, Nevada, New Mexico, and Rhode Island—and numerous cities and counties across the country.


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.

National Organizations Target ‘Conversion Therapy’ Quacks with Historic Federal Consumer Fraud Complaint

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 24, 2016)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal consumer fraud complaint against People Can Change, an organization that preys on vulnerable LGBT people and families by using damaging and discredited claims that it can change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency charged with protecting America’s consumers, the groups lay out the junk pseudoscience that Virginia-based People Can Change (PCC) uses to expose the American people to ineffective and dangerous “conversion therapy” practices that have for decades been linked to serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

The organizations are asking the FTC to take enforcement action to stop PCC’s deceptive practices and investigate all practitioners making similar claims.

The complaint alleges that PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which expressly and implicitly claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute deceptive, false, and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges that, in violation of FTC guidelines, PCC, like other practitioners in the “conversion therapy” industry:

  • Defrauds consumers into believing that being LGBT is a mental illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured, a false claim rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple United Nations committees, and every other major medical and mental health organization in the country;
  • Falsely claims that its “services” have a basis in science, and fails to disclose that its practices can lead to depression, substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, and self-harm, including suicide;
  • Targets and exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates in society and their own homes;
  • And uses unsubstantiated testimonials, endorsements, and scientific claims to justify charging hundreds and thousands of dollars to give vulnerable individuals false hope that their core identity is something to be cured.

“Today, after decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government. This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama Administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry. We sincerely look forward to working with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this fraudulent and unethical organization – along with every trusted professional who profits from the anguish of LGBTQ youth and their families. But, even more so, we look forward to the day when every human being, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, knows they were born perfect.” said NCLR #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Sam Ames.

“Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children, and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all. This is dangerous junk science that uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is by changing the very nature of who they are,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

“This complaint builds on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s groundbreaking lawsuit against New Jersey conversion therapy provider JONAH, in which a state jury unanimously found that its so called ‘therapy’ program, which incorporated PCC’s weekend-in-the-woods conversion therapy services, was consumer fraud and an unconscionable commercial practice,” said Scott McCoy, SPLC senior staff attorney. “Our case shut JONAH down, shed light on PCC’s harmful practices, and helped develop this important action to stop PCC and others in this industry from misleading and harming more people.”

The complaint comes as the movement to end “conversion therapy” continues to gain momentum. Earlier this month, Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey, joined by California Reps. Jackie Speier and Ted Lieu, issued a letter to the FTC urging the agency to use its authority to take “all actions possible to stop the unfair, deceptive and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy. …”

Their request follows a groundbreaking Department of Health and Human Services report called “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” and months after President Obama, Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued independent statements calling for an end to the practices.

Last year, a SPLC lawsuit forced the New Jersey “conversion therapy” provider JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) to permanently stop its bogus program and pay damages to plaintiffs. A jury found that JONAH had committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices in violation of state law.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting LGBT minors from “conversion therapy,” and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation this year. New York is also adopting regulations to protect youth from “conversion therapy” as a result of executive action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The law firm Cooley LLP serves as counsel to the petitioners in this matter.

Read the full complaint to the FTC 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.

NCLR Applauds Introduction of Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act by Congressman Lieu

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 19, 2015)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) applauds U.S. Congressman Ted W. Lieu’s introduction of the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, the first nationwide bill that would protect LGBT people from the dangers of conversion therapy. Lieu announced the bill this morning at a press conference attended by survivors of conversion therapy, members of the mental health and medical community, faith leaders, and representatives from NCLR, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

If passed, the Therapeutic Fraud Act would be the first nation-wide law to protect LGBT people, no matter who they are or where they live, from being defrauded by false and too often deadly promises that they can change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

NCLR #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator and Staff Attorney Sam Ames, who spoke at the bill’s introduction, said:  “On this historic day, we are honored to stand beside Congressman Lieu, a longtime leader in the fight to end conversion therapy, as well as the courageous survivors who have been speaking out for years against practices that falsely claim to be able to change sexual orientation or gender identity. This visionary bill will not only ensure that no person can profit from peddling services based on blatantly fraudulent claims about sexual orientation or gender identity,  it will save lives and send a clear message to every child in the country, no matter who they are or where they live, that they were born perfect.”

In 2012, Lieu, then a California legislator, championed the first state bill of its kind to protect LGBT young people from these ineffective and fraudulent practices, which are based on the false claim that sexual orientation is an illness or disorder and that it can be changed. Since then, New Jersey and Washington D.C. have passed similar laws. Earlier this month, Oregon lawmakers approved a similar bill, which Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign into law. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Jackie Speier reintroduced the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) Resolution of 2015, calling on more states to take action to protect youth from conversion therapy.


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.