Alachua County Commission votes to ban conversion therapy

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -- At a commission meeting Tuesday evening, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to ban the practice of conversion therapy for minors in the county.

Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to purposely change a person's sexual orientation.

There was a large showing of support for the ban as commissioners gathered to listen to public comment around 5:30 p.m. Similar bans have been enacted in counties and cities around the state and country, including in Gainesville.

"Anything that diminishes a human being's capability to live into their calling and into love is a violent act," said Talia Raymond, an Associate Minister at United Church of Gainesville.

Opponents of conversion therapy say the practice is harmful to youth, while proponents claim it should be protected under free speech.

"It's simply a matter of upholding the rights to free speech and free expression of religious rights," said Mary McAlister, the Senior Litigation Counsel at Liberty Counsel, a Christian-based litigation organization that challenges these types of bans.

The Liberty Counsel sent a letter to Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Chestnut, urging both him and the commission to vote against the ordinance. The organization said the county would be "rushing into costly litigation," and that the ordinance affects the free speech of therapists.

"If you come in and have an ordinance like this, that in and of itself is making them violate the ethics of self-determination, of client self-determination, because the client no longer can ask for this," McAlister said. "If they provide it for them then they get in trouble under the law."

The ban has been a topic of discussion on the county-level for months, as the county attorney's office has laid out a plan to implement the ordinance so that it would withstand legal scrutiny.

"If we say 'this is who I am, this is who I love, this is who I am created as, this is the gender I want to express or not express,' then to tell someone 'no, you're wrong or let's talk about that and see if I can change your mind,' that's not honoring that person's freedom," Raymond said.

Last March, the City of Gainesville passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy in the city.