The petition called for the creation of "Leelah's Law," ideally national legislation that would prohibit licensed therapists from engaging in the scientifically discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy. The petition on the government's We the People website was authored in the wake of transgender Ohio teenager Leelah Alcorn's suicide. In a note that went viral after she scheduled it to post to Tumblr after her death, the 17-year-old Alcorn detailed the harm she endured when subjected to conversion therapy by a Christian therapist she was taken to by her parents. The petition obtained more than 100,000 signatures in January, triggering a formal response from the White House.
Noting that the practice is often used on minors, "who lack the legal authority to make their own medical and mental health decisions," senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett offered a full-throated support from the administration toward efforts to ban such "therapy," which has been denounced by every major medical and mental health organization in the country as not only ineffective but likely to harm.
"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," Jarrett wrote Wednesday night in the White House's formal response to the petition.
"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 statement continued. "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," the statement concluded.
The official response also included remarks from the president, who stopped short of outright endorsing national legislation — which has yet to be introduced — to ban such efforts. However, the official response did mention bans on the use of such "therapy" on minors in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
"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," said President Obama in a statement. "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."
Transgender advocates applauded the administration's action.
"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," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in a statement Wednesday night. "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 pseudo-science that propels conversion therapy cannot match the self-acceptance that comes with this kind of change."
Incidentally, the formal response comes on the same day Jarrett published an op-ed with The Advocate marking the implementation of the president's executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. Between the publication of Jarrett's op-ed and the response to the petition for Leelah's Law, the White House disclosed to The Advocate that there are gender-neutral restrooms in the administration's executive building.