A White House petition to ban so-called LGBT conversion therapy received more than 100,000 signatures this week, meaning President Barack Obama's administration must formally respond to the request.
Written in the wake of trans teen Leelah Alcorn's highly publicized suicide late last year, the petition proposes a federal statute dubbed "Leelah's Law" that would require all states to end efforts by therapists to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, alternately known as "conversion," "reparative," or "ex-gay" therapy.
The practice of attempting to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity — often employing mental and physical tactics to create aversion to LGBT identities, including bribing, lying, disciplining, shaming, and attributing LGBT identity to repressed sexual abuse — has been denounced as ineffective and harmful by every major medical and mental health organization in the country. The American Psychological Association and other health organizations have disavowed the practice, and many LGBT rights groups consider such efforts to be torture.
So-called conversion therapists — who are often, but not always, religiously affiliated — may evoke Biblical condemnation of homosexuality or transgender identities to induce shame in patients, and in extreme cases may attempt to induce nauseau, vomiting, or paralysis while showing a subject homoerotic images, employ physical restraints, or induce pain through extreme temperatures, needles, and electric shocks, according to a 2009 report by the APA.
Currently, only California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., have state laws that prohibit licensed therapists from engaging in such practices on minors, but advocates of Leelah's Law hope to see such bans expanded on a nationwide scale.
With just days left to secure the 100,000 signatures required to trigger a response from the White House using its We The People petition forum, LGBT advocates went to work mobilizing supporters to utilize social media to add signatures. LGBT blogger David Badash's New Civil Rights Movement was first out of the gate, urging readers to sign and share the petition on Tuesday morning, when the petition had just over 67,000 signatures. LGBT outlets around the country — including The Advocate's sibling publication, Out — picked up the story and encouraged readers to add their names to the roster, topping 100,000 signatures on Thursday.
The petition pays tribute to Alcorn, the Ohio trans teen who left a public suicide note on her Tumblr blog that posted after her death on December 28, 2014. In her note, which gained international attention, Alcorn described being sent by her Christian family to a conversion therapist — an experience which contributed, in part, to her feeling hopeless and like she would never be accepted as a trans woman.
Alcorn also asked readers to "fix society" and make meaning of her death, which has resulted in the White House petition, international vigils and rallies, and more local work to counteract conversion therapy, address high suicide and homelessness rates among trans youth, and create understanding of LGBT people within religious communities.