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White House Backs Movement to Ban 'Conversion Therapy' for Gay Minors

The White House backed a call to end treatments intended to "cure" gay minors, denouncing "conversion therapy" for its "devastating" effects.
/ Source: NBC News

The White House on Wednesday formally backed a call to end psychiatric treatments intended to "cure" gay minors, denouncing so-called conversion therapy for its "potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth."

"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," Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said in a statement posted Wednesday night in response to a petition signed by more than 120,000 people.

"As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors," she wrote.

LGBT activists like Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, celebrated the announcement.

"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 LGB 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 petition was submitted to the White House in late December after Leelah Alcorn, 17, of Union Township, Ohio, committed suicide by walking in front of a semi-trailer. Leelah, who was born male but identified as female, left a note that blamed her parents for forcing her to attend conversion therapy.

"Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There's no winning. There's no way out. I'm sad enough already, I don't need my life to get any worse," Leelah wrote on Tumblr. "People say 'it gets better' but that isn't true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse."

Advocates say 40 percent of transgender youth report having tried to kill themselves at some point, although the data are limited.

Keisling called conversion therapy a "pseudo-science," and in recent years, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists have all declared that homosexuality isn't a mental disorder that can or should be cured.

"Altering sexual orientation is not an appropriate goal of psychiatric treatment," according to the American Psychiatric Association, which removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from its official diagnostic manual more than 40 years ago.