On Wednesday night, President Obama formally called for an end to the use of “gay conversion” therapies used by faith groups to force gay and transgender children to adhere to socially constructed gender identities that their parents demand. Hundreds of thousands of Americans signed a petition asking for the President’s support for a bill banning the harmful, discriminatory, and ultimately useless practices. It will be named “Leelah’s Law” in honor of Leelah Alcorn, an Ohio transgender teen who committed suicide after being forced to undergo the humiliating trauma of conversion therapy. Today, the White House let America know their voices have been heard.
Senior aide to Obama Valerie Jarett had this to say: “As a part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, the administration supports the effort to ban the use of conversation therapy on minor because there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that demonstrates conversion therapy, especially when practiced on young people, is neither medically, nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”
The use of conversion therapy is widely dismissed as puritanical nonsense by all respected medical opinions, and US Surgeon General David Satcher declared that there is “no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed” in 2001. It still remains popular in deeply religious communities who cannot abide the idea that their children may not adhere to their rigid conceptions of gender identity. It has deeply traumatic effects on the youths that are forced to endure it, especially when combined with rejection and “fire-and-brimstone” preaching from the parents. Leelah Arclon said shortly before she died that “I was Christian at the time so I thought that God hated me and that I didn’t deserve to be alive.”
This idiocy has gone on long enough, and President Obama deserves praise for finally speaking out against it. The White House’s statement quoted one of his older speeches, but it’s even more relevant today: ““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.”
America is facing a crossroads, as recent attempts to legalize discrimination in the Midwest have shown us. we need to decide what kind of society we want, and what kind of future we offer to our youth. America prides herself on the freedoms she gives to her citizens. It’s far past time we enshrined the right for every person to live the life they believe they should live, to make the choices that they want to make, and for their community to accept who they are. Let’s not let Leelah’s death will not have been in vain. We can only hope governors and legislators across the nation hear the President’s call and take it upon themselves to make change happen.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.