A federal appeals court struck down bans on anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County, Florida on Friday.
In the 2–1 decision, a three-judge panel on the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that laws banning licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy on minors were unconstitutional and violated the therapists’ First Amendment rights.
The decision overturns a federal district court’s ruling which upheld bans on conversion therapy in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Count after two therapists filed a lawsuit against the ordinances.
Conversion therapy is a harmful and ineffective practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It can cause severe physical and psychological harm and places many LGBTQ+ minors and adults at an increased risk of depression and suicide.
Conversion therapy has also been widely debunked and discredited by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and many more.
Despite this, US Circuit Judges Britt Grant and Barbara Lagoa argued that freedom of speech outweighs any harm LGBTQ+ minors might be subjected to. Both judges were appointed by President Donald Trump.
“We understand and appreciate that the therapy is highly controversial. But the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech,” Grant wrote in the majority opinion.
“We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”
Grant and Lagoa also rejected evidence that conversion therapy is harmful, claiming that there is not enough research to prove that it poses a real danger to LGBTQ+ youth.
Judge Beverly B. Martin, an Obama appointee, pushed back against this argument in her dissent, pointing out that conducting the research needed to evaluate the impact of conversion therapy would put children in harm’s way.
“To be clear, the very research the majority opinion seems to demand is “not ethically permissible” to conduct. This one implication of the majority holding is that because SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] is too dangerous to study, children can continue to be subjected to it,” Martin wrote.
“The majority opinion has the results of inviting unethical research that is nowhere to be found in the First Amendment jurisprudence.”
Friday’s decision not only places LGBTQ+ minors in Florida at risk of serious harm, but it also opens the door for other courts to follow suit. Up until now, federal courts have voted to uphold bans on conversion therapy.
Now that the defense of freedom of speech is on the table, there’s no telling how many Trump-appointed judges will use the argument to repeal conversion therapy bans and further strip away LGBTQ+ rights.