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Tallahassee Could Decide To Ban Conversion Therapy Wednesday

Group of people stand outside in the dark holding signs and yelling
Robbie Gaffney

Tallahassee’s City Commission will hear a presentation on conversion therapy during its December 4th meeting. The move comes as state lawmakers prepare to weigh a statewide ban of the practice.

Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change someone's sexuality from gay to straight. Studies have shown the practice is harmful for people and has led to depression, substance abuse and suicide. Twenty-two cities and counties in Florida have banned the practice and Tallahassee might be the 23rd. City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow has been a leader in the effort. He recently stood alongside LGBTQ rights advocates as they protested a group that supports the practice

"I felt like I needed to come and stand in solidarity," Matlow said during the protest. "Send a signal in our city that we don’t tolerate hate, and we don’t tolerate this type of speech." 

The north Florida-based conservative group, Freedom Speaks, is opposing the ban. The group wants to keep conversion therapy legal in Florida and it recently got a major backer in former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden. 

“I’m speaking for Freedom Speaks," Bowden says, "because they stand up for God and family. Y’all, we are in a battle for good versus evil," he said in a video posted to Freedom Speaks' Facebook page.

The group has also taken aim at Matlow over the city's effort to ban conversion therapy. The organization released a statement claiming Commissioner Matlow is gay. He lives with his wife and two sons in Tallahassee.

Freedom Speaks, in the same post, says conversion therapy bans interefere with a parent's right to "raise their children as they see fit."

During its last meeting, the commissionsupported a local ban, but City Attorney Cassandra Jackson recommended holding off on an ordinance citing two bills filed in the legislature that would ban conversion therapy statewide. Jackson recommended waiting to see what the state decides. However, Mayor John Dailey wanted to proceed with a ban and requested a report on whether the city can pass an ordinance. 

In October 2019, Judge William Jung overturned a similar conversion therapy ban in Tampa saying it, "impact[ed] Florida privacy rights and rights to parental choice in healthcare." 

Jung also cited a chapter in Florida Statutes that reads, "a patient has the right to access any mode of treatment that is, in his or her own judgment and the judgment of his or her health care practitioner, in the best interests of the patient, including complementary or alternative health care treatments."

The city is appealing Jung's decision. 

Jackson will be giving her presentation during the commission's December 4th meeting. Afterward, commissioners can choose to proceed with a ban or opt out. The meeting will take place on the second floor of City Hall. Both conservative and pro LGBTQ activists are expected to attend.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.