(WSVN) - Some therapists claim they can turn children from gay to straight. It’s controversial counseling that, experts say, hurts children. 7’s Brian Entin investigates how one South Florida county is trying to stop it.

Two years ago, the White House lit up in rainbow colors, and the LGBT community celebrated when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land.

But now there’s a new debate in Broward County — not about gay marriage, but so-called gay “conversion therapy.”

Brian Entin: “Did the therapists tell you that being gay was wrong?”

Justin Flippen, Wilton Manors vice mayor: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, that it was a sin, an abomination, outside of God’s will.”

Justin Flippen is the vice mayor of Wilton Manors, and is now comfortable with his sexuality. But he grew up Southern Baptist and spent years in conversion therapy in Broward County when he was a young adult.

Justin says therapists tried to blame being gay on his parents’ divorce, and he says the therapy sessions confused him even more about who he really was.

Justin Flippen: “I was pleading with God. ‘It’s been almost two years. I’m not changing. What’s wrong with me?'”

Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Justin Flippen

Flippen supports the Broward County Commission’s proposed conversion therapy ban. It would ban licensed therapists from working with minors to try and “…change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity…”

Broward Commissioner Nan Rich: “We want to make sure that it doesn’t happen and that we protect the well-being of children and youth in our community.”

Eight South Florida cities have already taken action on their own since 2016, passing local laws banning conversion therapy. But Miami-Dade County voted down a ban.

South Florida therapist Julie Hamilton is hoping Broward commissioners will do the same.

Dr. Julie Hamilton: “These ordinances are both unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Dr. Hamilton doesn’t like the phrase “conversion therapy,” and says no one should be forced.

Dr. Julie Hamilton: “We are only talking about the clients who want change. Those who do not want change are not a client. They can’t be.”

She says she works with children struggling with what she calls “unwanted attractions.”

Brian Entin: “Why should people have to change? What’s so bad about being gay?”

Dr. Julie Hamilton: “I think the point is that many, many people believe that they do not want a homosexual identity for their lives, and they have the right in America to pursue the life that they desire.”

But some of the most respected medical groups in the country oppose conversion therapy. Experts say it can lead to depression — and worse.

Justin Flippen: “I’m a survivor, and a pretty well-adjusted one, but I saw other young people in these sessions that struggled emotionally, mentally with who they felt they were and what they were being told by these professionals.”

The Broward County Commission will vote on the conversion therapy ban next Tuesday. If it passes, therapists who violate the ban would face a $250 fine.


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