President Obama Wants To End The Worst Kind Of "Therapy"

Photo: Rudolf Vonbriel/Getty Images.
President Obama said on Wednesday that he wants to end the controversial practice known as "conversion therapy," in response to a petition started after Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old trans teen in Ohio, killed herself in December.

"Conversion therapy" describes a controversial counseling practice designed to "convert" LGBT youth "back" to heterosexuality. According to a statement posted in response to the petition, "Enact Leelah's Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy," Obama wants to see all such programs banned across the country, and called on states to pass laws against them. 

“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. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out," a statement from Obama said. "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 President's statement has huge implications: With the Supreme Court preparing to rule on challenges to same-sex marriage bans, it's another step forward for queer rights after years of historic gains. And, instead of earlier efforts that have focused on winning rights for adults, like adoption or marriage, ending conversion therapy would be a step toward increasing safety and support for young people, which can save lives.
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According to a New York Times interview with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, the President was moved by the story of Leelah Alcorn, who spoke in her suicide note of the trauma of conversion therapy counselors trying to convince her to live as a boy.

"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," Jarrett said in her response to the petition.

The Leelah's Law petition collected more than 120,000 signatures in three months. While the statement said Obama would support "broader action," he did not say he would call on Congress to pass a federal ban. According to the White House, conversion therapy is illegal in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., and 18 other states have introduced bills that would stop it.
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