Responding to a White House petition, President Barack Obama this week called for an end to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy for minors.
Writing on the White House blog Wednesday, April 8, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said, “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is opposed by most major medical and mental health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.
“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 on the blog. “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.”
In her comments, Jarrett said it’s important for people to get advice from qualified health professionals.
“When assessing the validity of conversion therapy, or other practices that seek to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, it is as imperative to seek guidance from certified medical experts,” 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.”
Local LGBT organizations praised the president’s announcement.
“Equality California applauds and commends President Obama for his statement calling for an end to ‘conversion therapy,’ the damaging psychological abuse practiced by some mental health professionals who falsely claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression,” EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement.
Zbur pointed to a California law signed by Governor Jerry Brown that bans licensed therapists in the state from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of patients under the age of 18. The Golden State became the first in the nation to enact such a law, which was used as a model in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Several other states are considering similar action this year, EQCA noted.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights also applauded the White House announcement.
“There are few things more powerful to our children’s self-worth than having the president of the United States say you matter,” NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell said in a statement. “These powerful statements from President Obama and Valerie Jarrett not only affirm the lives of our transgender brothers and sisters, but the lives of all LGBT people.
“Today, our president made clear that we can and must do better,” Kendell continued. “Every LGBT child deserves to live with full dignity, free from shame, embraced for who they are. Today brings us one step closer to that moment.”
The petition seeking to ban conversion therapy was started after the December 2014 suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender youth. In a note she left behind, Alcorn explained how her parents had forced her to attend conversion therapy, pulled her out of school, and isolated her in an attempt to change her gender identity.
The petition received 120,958 signatures, enough to have the White House respond.