Conservative group takes Tampa conversion therapy ban challenge to federal court

Robert Vazzo conversion therapy

A conservative advocacy group is in federal court this week trying to overturn Tampa’s ban on conversion therapy in which counselors seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The group Liberty Counsel filed suit last December after Tampa City Council unanimously approved the ban and implemented harsh fines for counselors who violated it.

Now the group is getting their day in court describing the ban as one that blocks minors from “seeking to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.”

The Tampa ban applies only to minors and was adopted after numerous accounts nationwide of children who claimed to be psychologically scarred from the practice, which was forced upon them by parents, guardians or church leaders. Numerous medical groups have denounced the practice.

It’s banned in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

The ordinance imposes a $1,000 fine for first offenders and up to $5,000 in fines for subsequent offenses.

Liberty Counsel is representing counselors Robert Vazzo and David Pickup as well as their minor clients. Vazzo and Pickup are both well-known “reparative therapists.”

In an interview with the group Voices of the Silenced, Vazzo said he viewed “homosexuality as a type of fetish where the object happens to be human.”

Both Vazzo and Pickup in interviews have said that “homosexuality” is a by product of some greater “wound.” For example, a boy who was bullied or who lacked male authority as a child, might turn to same-sex relationships as a way to reclaim masculinity.

“It’s not just one thing and your son turns gay,” Pickup said in a radio interview in 2015.

Liberty Counsel alleges on behalf of its clients that therapists should be able to use the “sacred trust” between counselors and their clients to help those clients reach their goals.

They argue Tampa’s ban violates the First Amendment by “imposing a viewpoint and content-based prohibition on the speech on licensed professionals.”

“The city of Tampa has no authority to prohibit counselors from providing counsel which their clients seek,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The government has no business eavesdropping inside the counseling rooms, and the city has no authority to enact a local counseling regulation.”

Liberty Counsel is an international group that operates as the sort of counter to the ACLU, fighting for policies that advance religious freedom and pro-life and family values. The non-profit group has been offering legal assistance on those topics since 1989.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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