A Boca Raton therapist has threatened to sue Palm Beach County if it passes a proposed ban on the controversial practice of conversion therapy, which aims to change an individual’s sexual orientation.
Robert Otto argued during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting — and again in an email to County Mayor Melissa McKinlay sent Thursday night — that the state, not the county, has the authority to punish therapists, who could be fined under the county’s ordinance if they they practice conversion therapy on minors.
“The state has determined the standards for violations, defines the terms in the statute and has a means in place to punish violations,” Otto wrote to McKinlay. “The state has preempted you on this issue. If you pass this proposal, I will take you to court.”
McKinlay said Otto has a right to sue, but she said his threat to do so “will not prevent me from supporting what I believe is a strictly worded medical restriction in order to protect minors.”
Supporters of the county’s proposed ordinance, which is similar to bans that have already been passed in several Palm Beach County municipalities, say it protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender minors from a practice designed to convince them that their sexual orientation is bad or wrong.
Opponents say the proposed ordinance usurps the authority of parents looking to help children who are confused about their sexuality and curtails the free speech rights of therapists.
The county is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on December 19.
McKinlay said the proposed ordinance does not bar parents or clergy from “conducting this so-called therapy, just licensed medical professionals.”
She said the proposed ordinance also does not bar minors from seeking therapy.
“The medical professional just cannot attempt to ‘convert’ a patient,” she said.