Supporters of Leelah Alcorn Just got a Great Response from President Obama

April 9th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

On Wednesday, the White House announced its support for a ban on practices that claim to "convert" sexual orientation and gender identity for young people in response to a petition to ban all LQBTQ+ conversion therapies. The petition, which garnered some 120,000 signatures was itself a response to the December suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgendered girl whose parents had forced her to attend conversion therapy.

"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 in the release. "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 is also depends on us -- on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build."

White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett went on to explain the administration's position.

"As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors," 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." 

The White House's response to the petition is just the latest move in a string of recent attempts to ban the practice for minors.

Last month, lawmakers in a number of states moved to ban the controversial practice known as gay conversion therapy, signaling for many a quiet, but encouraging shift away from the notion that anything other than heterosexual orientation is a disease--and indeed that it is treatable.

In Iowa, the Senate narrowly passed Senate File 334, which would ban conversion therapy for those under 18, mirroring existing laws in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia (where it recently became law). The Des Moines Register, however, notes that the bill now heads to the Republican-controlled House, where it is likely to fail against strong opposition from Christian conservatives.

Proponents and opponents of a similar proposed ban for minors testified in front of Illinois lawmakers last month, which passed with a 9-5 vote in the House Juvenile Justice and System Involved Youth Committee, according to the AP. That bill heads to the full house for a vote, and a similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Oregon's House voted last month on a proposed ban for conversion therapy for minors, which passed with a 41-18 vote, sending it to the state's Senate. The developments come on the heels of similar proposed bans in both Colorado, where a bill passed the house, and Texas, where a bill was introduced, earlier in March.

But legislative proposals aren't the only promising developments lately. In a groundbreaking case in the New Jersey Supreme Court in February, a judge ruled that the controversial practice known as gay conversion therapy was an act of consumer fraud.

In the ruling, Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr., appeared to side with four men who filed a lawsuit against therapists at Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH, conveniently) in Jersey City. The lawsuit claims that the four plaintiffs were subjected to humiliating treatments that resulted in mental health issues.

The practice, sometimes known as “reparative,” “reorientation,” or “ex-gay” therapy, approaches homosexuality as a treatable mental disorder, and has long been a pillar of salvation for those of the opinion that sexual preference can be corrupted, corrected, and re-shaped. It is generally aimed at gay men.

“Conversion therapy is based on the misguided and erroneous belief that being gay is a mental disorder – a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association four decades ago,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in a court filing. “Despite the findings by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and peer organizations, [JONAH] repeatedly represented to Plaintiffs that their services were effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.”

In his ruling, Judge Bariso deemed any company labeling homosexuality as a disorder to be committing fraud and refused to hear testimony from “expert” conversion therapists, dismissing their field as junk science. “The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel––but like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it––instead is outdated and refuted,” he wrote.

Back in the 1970s, when conventional medicine ceased associating homosexuality with having a disorder, hard-line conservative and religious organizations began cropping up insisting that being gay was the result of childhood trauma, poor parenting, and repressed masculinity. Since then, authoritative groups like the American Psychiatric Association have denounced the practice, warning that such therapy can cause “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior,” as well serving to “reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

Critics of the practice say that methodology can range from traumatic to the absurd. According to a filing in the New Jersey case, plaintiffs were made to undergo practices described as “bioenergetics,” which included beating effigies of patients’ mothers with tennis rackets, stripping down and holding genitals in groups with instructors, visiting gyms and bath houses “in order to be nude with father figures,” and perhaps the most anachronous, being “subjected to ridicule as ‘faggots’ and ‘homos’ in mock locker room and gym class scenarios.”

After pressure from the Human Rights Campaign in February, Psychology Today recently announced that they would no longer allow therapists offering to "cure" homosexuality to advertise in their pages.