President Obama is calling for an end to conversion therapy treatments aimed towards gay, lesbian, and transgender youth.
Obama posted a statement Wednesday evening alongside a WhiteHouse.gov petition begun in honor of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender youth who committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a tractor-trailer in December after writing a suicide note and posting it to Tumblr stating that religious therapists had tried to convert her back to being a boy.
The petition calls for a law to be enacted that will ban the practice known as “conversion therapy.” It also asks that the legislation be named after Leelah. Over 120,000 individuals have signed the online petition since its posting on January 3, 2015.
“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to Obama, wrote in response to the petition. “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. 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.
“As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors," Jarret's response continued.
Jarrett told The New York Times that Obama was moved by Leelah’s suicide, but the problem does not stop with her struggle.
“It was tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately, she has a lot of company,” Jarrett said. “It’s not the story of one young person. It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”
A federal ban on conversion therapy treatments by therapists will not be explicitly called upon by Obama. He will be open to discussions with lawmakers from both parties on the matter, according to White House officials.
Obama plans to support efforts on a state level to ban the practice.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, is supportive of Obama’s statement, reports Yahoo News.
"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 LGBT young people," Keisling said. "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."
The American Psychiatric Association opposes conversion therapy, stating it is based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder.
There are currently 18 states who have introduced legislation to ban conversion therapies on minors by licensed professionals. California, New Jersey, and Washington D.C already have similar legislation in place.