In yet another bold move in support of LGBT rights, the Obama administration announced late on Wednesday that it would support efforts to end so-called “conversion therapy” for gay and transgender youth. The decision comes in the wake of the tragic death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, who referenced attempts by religious therapists to make her identify as a boy in her suicide note.
The White House released a lengthy statement on its website, penned by longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, calling for a ban on therapy which claims to “repair” LGBT youth. The statement supports a petition that has received over 120,000 signatures in the last few months.
“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,” writes Jarrett. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
Jarrett goes on to cite medical findings which have suggested that attempts to “change” individuals’ sexual preference can actually prove to have “dangerous effects.” She describes state-based efforts to curb the practice, even referencing a signed statement in opposition to conversion therapy from frequent Obama critic New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The statement also provides resources for LGBT youth and their families, including links on bullying, homelessness and a guide for relatives to learn how to better accept and engage with LGBT children and teens.
“This administration believes that young people should be valued for who they are, no matter what they look like, where they’re from, the gender with which they identify, or who they love,” writes Jarrett.
Although Jarrett does not suggest any legislative moves or executive action to put the proposed ban into effect, the White House curiously used the hashtag #LeelahsLaw when rolling out the petition response on social media.
Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 after being cyber-bullied for being gay, called the White House’s move “kind and proactive” on Wednesday.
“Let’s not wait another moment to slowly let each state to come to their senses and outlaw the very archaic and outdated conversion therapy. Research has proven the ineffectiveness and dangerous effects conversion therapy has on individuals of all ages,” she told msnbc. “Why would we allow a youth who is not legally allowed to make these medical decisions on his or her own to be subjected to hurtful and harmful psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes of shame and brokenness. Not everyone has the luxury of time on their side. Let’s put an immediate end to conversion therapy for all youth nationally.”
Wednesday’s statement marks the latest in a number of historic steps to further the cause of LGBT rights under President Obama. During his two terms in office he has ended the ban on gays in the military, endorsed same-sex marriage, ended the enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act and appointed a historic number of LGBT Americans to government posts.
According to The New York Times, Jarrett says Alcorn’s story had a particularly emotional effect on the president. “It was tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately she has a lot of company,” Jarrett told the Times on Wednesday. “It’s not the story of one young person. It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”