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Leelah Alcorn's legacy: US President says conversion therapy should be banned

The statement from Barack Obama comes after a petition inspired by Leelah Alcorn.

Leelah Alcorn
Leelah Alcorn
Image: lazerprincess.tumblr.com

ON 27 DECEMBER last year, Leelah Alcorn took her own life.

The 17-year-old transgender girl had written a suicide note and posted it on Tumblr before walking in front of a truck.

In her letter, she explained how her parents had forced her to attend ‘conversion therapy’. This meant she was pulled out of school and isolated – all part of a wider attempt to change her gender identity.

She wrote that she knew from the age of four, but that it wasn’t until she was 14 that she heard the term ‘transgender’.

“After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was,” she wrote, adding that her parents did not accept her.

In the wake of her tragic death, a petition to the White House was signed by more than 120,000 people, calling on the President to help ban so-called ‘conversion therapies’.

“Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child’s gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths,” the petition reads.

We respectfully seek your help to ban the practice known as ‘conversion therapy’ and name the bill in honor of Leelah Alcorn.

Responding to their calls today, Barack Obama and one of his advisors talked about the dangers of conversion therapies.

The US president said, “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.

“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.”

Obama said young people must be given the right to choose and live safely regardless of sexual orientation. 

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to Obama, said the therapy has been rejected by both medical and mental health communities. 

“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth,” she told those who signed the petition.

“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.”

However, a national ban would require congressional action.

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