In a response to a petition on Whitehouse.gov that has amassed more than 120,000 signatures, President Barack Obama condemned psychiatric therapies meant to convert gays and lesbians to heterosexuals and change the gender identities of transgender youths. The petition was inspired by the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, an Ohio transgender girl who walked in front of a semi-truck in December after her parents sent her to conversion therapy sessions and isolated the teen to reverse her transgender identity.
The petition called for a ban of the controversial treatments for minors, whose legal guardians are able to make medical decisions like sending them to conversion therapy, even if they openly resist attendance. It was started by the Transgender Human Rights Institute. The response to the petition was written by Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House aide, but included a response from President Obama:
“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,” said Obama. “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 response did not say that the Obama administration would push forward a ban itself. Instead it cited conversion therapy bans in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., as models to follow across the U.S. and hoped that “the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this Administration would support.” The administration is open to a discussion with Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, White House officials said on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.
The American Psychiatric Association has opposed conversion therapy since 1998, after it declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. The consensus among the scientific community is that conversion therapy is not only ineffective, but can be extremely harmful, leading to depression and suicide.