Therapists in the Miami-Dade suburbs would be banned from trying to change a child’s sexual orientation under a proposed county law that passed a committee vote on Wednesday.
“Just the gall of people thinking you can just change someone because you do not agree with their choices or what happens in their life. When it is not a choice. It is a way of life,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan said before casting one of three Yes votes for the proposal. “I didn’t choose to be born. I was born.”
With the proposed county rule, Miami-Dade would join a national movement led by gay-rights groups to prevent the discredited practice of trying to coax someone into changing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Miami and Miami Beach and other cities have already enacted local bans on offering the practice to minors, and the county rule would extend the restrictions to areas in Miami-Dade that are outside city jurisdictions.
Miami-Dade has already banned discrimination based on gender identity, and Wednesday’s hearing drew no opposition or No votes. The only debate centered around whether the proposed ordinance should be expanded to impose the ban within cities in Miami-Dade, too.
Sponsor Sally Heyman said she was concerned such a sweeping measure might invite a state law to undo the county’s regulations in the same way Tallahassee nullified Miami-Dade’s 2016 ordinance regulating Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies. She said the commission should pursue a countywide ban while first getting the rules imposed in unincorporated Miami-Dade. That’s the sprawling area outside of the boundaries of Miami-Dade’s 34 cities, which houses nearly 45 percent of the county’s population and follows zoning rules established by the commission.
“This is a great start,” Heyman said.
In 2016, Miami Beach was the first city in Florida to pass local regulations banning the conversion practice for minors after statewide rules failed in the Florida Legislature. Miami and three other Miami-Dade cities followed suit: Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal, and North Bay Village. Save, a Miami-Dade group that advocates for gay rights and endorses political candidates, backed the city laws and launched a campaign supporting the proposed county rules, too.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May rejected a constitutional challenge to California’s ban on conversion therapy for anyone under 18, the same age range covered in the local laws. Multiple states have similar laws on the books.
Joining Jordan in voting for the proposed Miami-Dade ordinance were Heyman and Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. The full 13-member board is expected to take a final vote on the measure in September.
David Richardson, a Florida representative and Democrat now running for Congress, sponsored the state conversion bans that failed to pass in the Legislature. He told commissioners he doubted Florida lawmakers would want to revisit the issue by crafting a bill to undo a countywide ban in Miami-Dade. “I don’t think they talk about the issue, quite frankly,” he said.
Several advocates at the hearing before the commission’s Public Safety and Health Committee said they have encountered youths suffering from the consequences of “conversion” or “reparative” therapy from counselors trying to convince a child he or she could become straight.
“We shouldn’t be calling this therapy,” said Jason King, head of advocacy for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “It’s a morally repugnant practice.”
“There is nothing to convert or repair,” Maidember Guemez, clinical coordinator for the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth in North Miami, told the committee, “because there is nothing broken.”