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Barack Obama Seeks Ban on ‘Conversion Therapy’ for Gay, Transgender Teens

White House adviser notes “potentially devastating effects” of controversial practice in response to online petition

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama has called for a ban on "conversion therapy."

Pete Souza/The White House

President Barack Obama will call for an end to “conversion therapy,” the controversial practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation, the New York Times reports.

The White House responded to an online petition requesting the banning of the practice that has garnered more than 120,000 online signatures since its January 3rd posting.

“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth,” Obama’s Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote. “The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm. As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

The Times reports that Obama will not call for a federal law banning the practice, but will meet with politicians on both sides of the aisle in an effort to ban conversion therapy on the state level.

The petition requested the creation of “Leelah’s Law,” a bill named after Leelah Alcorn, the 17-year-old trans teen who threw herself in front of a tractor trailer last December after her parents forced her to meet with Christian therapists in an attempt to “convert” her back to a boy.

In her suicide note, Alcorn wrote that she felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since age four. After learning what transgender meant, she “cried of happiness,” but wrote that her mother “reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.” Her parents would eventually remove her from school and ban her from social media, leaving Alcorn with no support system to discuss her transition.

“‘Conversion therapies’ have been documented to cause great harms and in this case, Leelah’s death,” the petition read. “Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child’s gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths.”

In her response, Garrett noted that the medical community has long rejected the practice, as it has been shown to have “dangerous effects” and can “pose serious health risks to LGBTQ+ individuals.” 

“[Alcorn’s suicide] was tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately she has a lot of company,” Ms. Jarrett told the Times. “It’s not the story of one young person. It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”

California and New Jersey are the only states, alongside the District of Columbia, that have passed laws banning conversion therapy on minors. Eighteen other states have introduced similar legislation in the past year. “While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this Administration would support,” Garrett wrote.

President Obama himself wrote about the need to protect LGBTQ rights in the petition. “Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember,” Obama wrote. “Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was,” Alcorn wrote in her suicide note. “They’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say, ‘That’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

In This Article: Gay rights, LGBT

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