Obama endorses bans on ex-gay conversion “therapy”

Last night, the White House responded to a We the People petition calling for a ban on ex-gay conversion abuse therapy. The petition recounted the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year-old transgender youth who, in her suicide note, outlined how her parents had taken her out of school, isolated her and forced her to attend ex-gay programs in an attempt to change her gender identity.

She closed her note saying that “My death needs to mean something,” asking the rest of us to “Fix society. Please.” The Administration’s endorsement of banning the abuse that contributed to Alcorn’s suicide is a step in that direction.

The Administration’s response to the petition reads, in part:

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.

While stopping short of calling for congressional action, as getting a ban passed in either chamber of Congress right now is a pipe dream, the Administration endorsed the three existing state-level bans, along with the additional 18 bills circulating through various state legislatures that would outlaw the practice.

The idea that any form of therapy can be used to change sexual orientation has been widely discredited by mainstream medical organizations, with every serious investigation of the practice concluding that it does more harm than good.

Obama’s announcement also puts Republican presidential contenders in the awkward position of having to attack Obama while not endorsing junk science that’s been directly tied to the deaths of kids across the country:

With respect to the administration stopping short of endorsing congressional action that would almost certainly be blocked in both the House and Senate, Valerie Jarrett had this to say:

We believe that although a national ban would require congressional action, we’re hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the action taken by the states will lead to broader action that the administration would support.

One of those forms of broader action that the administration has had multiple chances to support would be the passage of very basic regulations on residential schools and camps, many of which practice ex-gay conversion therapy. Currently, those organizations are effectively unregulated, and have accounted countless cases of abuse and even death among their attendees. Federal legislation has been introduced multiple times and fallen short. Congressman Adam Schiff (D – CA) is set to introduce such legislation this session, and if President Obama is serious about endorsing actions that would curb the culture of shame and abuse that is inflicted upon LGBT youth across the country, he will throw his support behind the legislation.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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