President Barack Obama is calling for an end to psychiatric therapy treatments aimed at changing the sexual orientation or gender identity of gay, lesbian and transgender youth.
The move comes in response to an online petition posted on the White House website following the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn in Warren County. The transgender teen committed suicide in December and left behind writings mentioning religious therapy.
In a statement late Wednesday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the administration supports banning so-called conversion therapy treatments for minors.
“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth,” Jarrett said. “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 American Psychiatric Association has long opposed conversion therapy, which the organization says is based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder.
A Transgender Health Clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has around 175 patients between the ages of 5 to 24. Dr. Lee Ann Conard, director of the Transgender Health Clinic, said practices employed by its medical and mental health professionals are in agreement with the American Psychiatric Association.
“Our approach is family-centered,” Conard said in an email. “We look to provide acceptance, education, support and treatment options with a clear understanding that each patient’s care and family situation is very individual.”
Tom Jenkins, of Miami Twp., board member at Cincinnati chapter of PFLAG, formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said he was glad to see support out of the White House.
“PFLAG and the gay community have long been upset by the folks that think they can change (sexual orientation or gender identity),” Jenkins said. “Not just for transgender kids but families of gay kids that say it’s just a phase or it’s a choice.”
PFLAG chapters across the country have a three-fold mission of education, support and advocacy for LGBTQ individuals and their families.
Jenkins said the agency provides an outlet for gay and transgender youth to find like-minded people to compare experiences with. They also make referrals to the transgender health clinic in downtown Cincinnati and Liberty Twp.
“Trans issues have been much to the forefront recently especially with Leelah Alcorn,” Jenkins said.
Alcorn, the Ohio teen whose death spurred the White House petition, had gained an online following through her Tumblr posts. She wrote about depression and isolation, lamented that her life would only get worse, and expressed frustration that her parents wanted her to be “their perfect little straight Christian boy.” She said she was taken to “Christian therapists” who were “very biased.”
The White House is not explicitly calling for congressional legislation to ban the therapies nationwide. But Jarrett’s statement highlighted states that have outlawed the practice and expressed hope for broader action.
The White House says lawmakers in 18 states have introduced legislation similar to measures already in place in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., banning licensed professionals from using conversion therapy on minors.
“The whole LGBTQ community is very happy about that,” said Randy Phillips, president of Greater Dayton LGBT Center. “It’s been proven over and over that such therapies are dangerous because it promotes self hatred. It’s not healthy and quite often leads to suicide.”
Phillips said the LGBT Center has support groups for different age groups, including a youth group for those 14-18, that draw people as far south as West Chester and east as Springfield. He said they’re working with one family that has a six-year-old transgender child.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, welcomed Obama’s statement.
“Having President Obama and the weight of the White House behind efforts to ban conversion therapy is so critical in the fight for transgender and LGB young people,” Keisling said in a statement. “My hope is that when a transgender person’s struggle is acknowledged by one of the most recognizable figures in the world, it positively changes the way they view themselves. The pseudo-science that propels conversion therapy cannot match the self-acceptance that comes with this kind of change.”
Dan Tepfer, of Beavercreek, PFLAG regional director for Great Lakes, said the organization would be in favor of banning conversion therapies.
“Conversion therapy seems to be a very painful thing for those who have to endure it when there’s nothing to convert,” Tepfer said. “It’s just something that can’t be done and is harmful to the individual.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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