Tallahassee city commissioners have voted to include marginalized people within the LGBTQ community into a proposed ordinance banning conversion therapy. The decision came during Wednesday’s city commission meeting.
Before the meeting begins, LGBTQ rights advocates pile into the city commission chambers. Residents young and old have pinned rainbow ribbons to their shirts and hold signs that read, “Protect our innocent LGBTQ+ youth.” Dotted in the crowd are backers of conversion therapy. One woman crosses out LGBTQ+ on a sign and replaces it with the word confused so that it reads, “Protect our innocent confused youth.” She says she was gay, but through God, became straight.
At least 37 residents came to either condemn or applaud conversion therapy. The controversial practice is known for trying to change someone from gay to straight. It also aims to change someone’s gender identity. For Día Medley-Neyra, it’s an experience that’s hard to talk about—and that shows. Her voice shakes as she tells her story about coming out as a transgender woman. At 15, Medley-Neyra says she was put through conversion therapy.
"I was pushed onto the ground and forced onto an altar and I prayed. I was made to pray for about three hours, in the name of, still to this day my God, and they wouldn’t let me leave," she said. "I kept asking them to please let me go—to stop and they wouldn’t listen."
After not being able to change, Medley-Neyra says her parents kicked her out of the house at 16 and she’s now homeless. She says she is working through PTSD, depression, anxiety, and has attempted suicide three times.
Mark Nelson argues what Medley-Neyra described wasn’t conversion therapy. Nelson says he advises a group of "strugglers" and "wraps his arms around them."
“I realize it’s very difficult to change,” Nelson begins, “but you can change, but it takes a radical encounter with a cross and Jesus Christ crucified.”
Nelson says he was active in the Tallahassee gay community for more than 20 years. During this time, Nelson identified as gay, but after being diagnosed with AIDS, he wanted to become straight.
“There’s no other way around it and I experienced that. I live now as a heterosexual man—married for eleven years.”
He’s asking the city commission to support LGBTQ people who want to go through conversion therapy. But Terry Galloway, who spoke during the meeting, says the practice isn’t therapy.
“Now, therapy—therapy is open-ended and its goal is happiness—happiness. Conversion therapy goes in with an agenda, and that agenda is to cure what the parents perceive as a sinful behavior in their child and that goal of conversion therapy is compliance,” Galloway says.
After more than an hour of public comment, commissioners spoke in favor of the proposed ban. But, activist Kathryn Lane, a member of the group that brought the proposal to the city's attention initially, had some concerns. Lane says the proposal created by City Attorney Cassandra Jackson doesn't go far enough.
"The version that we proposed is different than what the city attorney proposed. Specifically, it leaves out the terms, genderqueer, pansexual, non-binary, asexual, intersex, queer, and the acronym LGBTQ+. All of those are marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities. They are a part of our community. There is no reason to exclude them. There is no reason to have left them out. It is an insult to our community to do so."
Here's a quick refresher for anyone who needs a definition of gender identities and sexual orientations included in Lane's list:
Genderqueer: Anyone who does not identify with their assigned gender at birth.
Pansexual: Attraction to a person regardless of gender or attraction to all genders.
Non-Binary: Someone who does not identify as a man or woman.
Asexual: Someone who is not sexually attracted to others.
Intersex: Someone who has ambiguious sex characteristics that does not fit the typical definition of being male or female.
People often say LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA+ when speaking about people who identify with these groups.
Mayor John Dailey directed Jackson to work with Lane and Jon Harris-Maurer of Equality Florida to help draft a more inclusive ordinance that will eventually go before the city commission for a vote.
Community Activist Lakey Love says if the proposal is eventually passed, Tallahassee will be the first city in Florida to include these minorities in a conversion therapy ban. However, the move could come with some legal complications. After Tampa passed a ban on conversion therapy, it faced a lawsuit that's still pending in court. Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox says officials will just have to accept that possability.
“You never know until you get sued,” Williams-Cox says, “So anyway, we’ll deal with it at that time.”
Once the draft is finished, the commission will host public hearings in 2020 to get community input on the ordinance before taking a final vote.