Trump judges: 'Therapy' to make kids stop being gay is 'free speech' so it's OK

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Two judges for the 11th Circuit struck down laws that prohibit the harmful practice of 'conversion therapy.'

A pair of judges appointed by Donald Trump ruled Friday that bans in two Florida counties on anti-LGBTQ "conversion therapy" were unconstitutional.

"Conversion therapy" is a dangerous practice that claims gay, bisexual, and lesbian people's sexual orientation and trans people's gender can be changed through the use of methods that groups of psychiatric professionals consider harmful to LGBTQ people's mental health.

Twenty states in the United States have bans on the so-called therapy for minors.

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The judges, Barbara Lagoa and Britt Grant, both U.S. Circuit judges for the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, were both appointed by Trump and were among a three-judge panel charged with determining whether bans on the "therapy" in Boca Raton and Palm Beach should be allowed to stand. The third judge on the panel, Judge Beverly C. Martin, was appointed by President Barack Obama and dissented in the case.

Lagoa and Grant claimed Friday that the bans violated the First Amendment.

"We understand and appreciate that the therapy is highly controversial. But the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech," Grant wrote in the decision. "We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny."

The two further defended the practice by claiming that the therapists aren't trying to "change sexual orientation" because the therapists make the distinction that their clients, who are minors, want to "reduce same-sex behavior and attraction and eliminate what they term confusion over gender identity."

Lagoa, who was once on Trump's short list for the Supreme Court, previously received the support of the Florida Family Policy Council, an anti-LGBTQ group, for her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also notably opposed Grant's confirmation to the 11th Circuit, citing her work on an amicus brief that claimed there was no constitutional right to marriage equality.

Liberty Counsel, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, was responsible for bringing the case before the court, on behalf of two marriage and family therapists who claimed the bans infringed on their right to free speech.

For years, there has been extensive research and input from mental health professionals that shows how dangerous "conversion therapy" is for the LGBTQ people subjected to it. The American Psychiatric Association has said it stands against "conversion therapy," and said there is a "significant risk of harm" from the practice, which has "not been scientifically validated."

Additionally, the Health and Human Services department released a report in 2015 that advocated an end to the practice. Elliot Kennedy, special expert on LGBTQ Affairs at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the time, said the treatments were "not effective, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, and are not appropriate mental health treatments," according to Reuters.

In 2019, A Williams Institute report estimated that about 700,000 LGBTQ people aged 18 to 59 had been subject to "conversion therapy" and that tens of thousands more people would also experience the practice as minors in states without these bans.

There have also been calls to end these so-called treatments across the globe. The United Nations released a report earlier this year that advocated for countries to ban "conversion therapy." It mentioned the United States as one of the countries in which political authorities and faith-based organizations still supported the practice.

There is a possibility that the issue of "conversion therapy" could reach the Supreme Court, where there is a clear conservative majority: According to Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, Friday's decision means that there is a "very good chance" the Supreme Court could hear a case on whether the practice is unconstitutional.

The outlook is poor LGBTQ rights in general. Trump's recently confirmed justice, Amy Coney Barrett, has made numerous anti-LGBTQ statements in the past and has associations with various anti-LGBTQ groups and institutions. And Justice Samuel Alito proclaimed just a week ago that people who oppose marriage equality are being silenced unfairly.

"You can't say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman," he claimed. "Until very recently, that's what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it's considered bigotry. That this would happen after our decision in [the historic marriage equality decision Obergefell v. Hodges] should not have come as a surprise."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.