When Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Justin Flippen was a teenager, he spent two years at a conversion therapy facility trying “not to be gay.”
“I went [to] one-on-one counseling and group counseling and other programs … but I realized that this was not the correct route for a young person,” he reflected. “I realized being gay is inherent to who I was.”
“I never thought I would survive something like this and become a policy maker.”
But he did. And now that he is a lawmaker, he’s making sure no other LGBTQ youth in his municipality have to experience what he went through. With the help of SAVE, Wilton Manors banned conversion therapy, along with five other South Florida cities. It’s also banned in Miami Beach, the City of Miami, North Bay Village, Bay Harbor Islands, and El Portal. Most recently, an ordinance seeking to ban the practice was passed unanimously at a Public Safety and Health Committee hearing. If passed as a measure, the country rule would illegalize conversion therapy in all unincorporated parts of Miami-Dade County.
Conversion therapy can include a range of practices, from individual counseling like what Flippen experienced to aversive conditioning, which is introducing an unpleasant sensation, like a bad smell or physical abuse, to stop a behavior. The purported goal of the “therapy” is “stopping people” from being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
It’s a practice that has been denounced by numerous professional and medical organizations including the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers.
“It makes you feel devalued, has been shown to lead to issues of depression, lack of self-esteem, thoughts of or even committing suicide. I wouldn’t want to be at the table and say I could have protected this young person and I chose not to act,” Flippen said.
This commitment to protecting younger members of the LGBTQ community is also what inspired Miami Beach Commissioner John Alemán to introduce similar legislation in her city. After state representative David Richardson tried and failed to get the support he needed to ban the practice statewide, Richardson took it
to the city level and asked Alemán to sponsor the Miami Beach bill that would ban conversion therapy within city limits.
“I am a mother of two sons, a 14-year-old and 10-year-old [and] the thought of children being subject to this mental and emotional abuse as they’re growing up and building their confidence … I just really couldn’t allow having these damaging practices performed on young people and I was happy and eager to get on board, learn, and get the ban passed in Miami Beach.”
The ban passed last June, prohibiting conversion therapy within city limits and imposes a fine or violation on anyone practicing it. It joins five other city bans across South Florida.
“It’s important to have it on the books and create a safe haven for the youth. This lets folks know young people will be protected, that their health and well-being is important and fraudulent medical practices are not tolerated,” Flippen added.
Why is this important?
Conversion therapy has been denounced by numerous professional and medical organizations including the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers. It’s damaging to LGBTQ youth’s sense of self and has been shown to lead to issues of depression, lack of self-esteem, thoughts of or even committing suicide.
Where South Florida stands
Six cities have banned conversion therapy including Miami Beach, the City of Miami, North Bay Village, Bay Harbor Islands, El Portal and Wilton Manors. A countywide ban is pending.
What cities are doing best
While Sen. David Richardson has been trying to pass a statewide ban in Tallahassee for the past three years, cities are starting to take the lead despite state inaction. Miami Beach was the second city in the country to pass the ban and, in just one year, there are up to 18 cities banning the practice throughout the United States. Thirteen of those bans are in the State of Florida.
How can we do better?
There are 34 municipalities in Miami-Dade and 30 municipalities in Broward County. Currently 6 of these 34 ban conversion therapy outright. Despite the lack of statewide action, these cities can continue to take the lead in banning this harmful practice.
How do I get involved?
Urge your local representatives to take action at the city-level and your state representatives to take action at a statewide level and report any conversion therapy practices you encounter to local authorities.