On Sunday, December 27, 2014, Leelah Alcorn a 17 year old transgender youth wrote a suicide note, posted it on Tumblr and then walked in front of a semi-truck tragically ending her life. Leelah explained how her parents had forced her to attend conversion therapy, pulled her out of school and isolated her in an attempt to change her gender identity. 'Conversion therapies' have been documented to cause great harms and in this case, Leelah's death. 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. We respectfully seek your help to ban the practice known as 'conversion therapy' and name the bill in honor of Leelah Alcorn.
Response to Petition
By Valerie Jarrett
“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.”
Thank you for taking the time to sign on to this petition in support of banning the practice known as conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy generally refers to any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, this practice is used on minors, who lack the legal authority to make their own medical and mental health decisions. We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth.
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 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 use of conversion therapy
The medical and mental health communities have long made clear that they reject the practice of conversion therapy, aimed at “changing” one’s sexual orientation. Recently, efforts to change an individual’s gender identity have also been shown in countless instances to have dangerous effects. More than 40 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, and in 1998 released a statement “[opposing] any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy.” It asserted that “such directed efforts are against fundamental principles of psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes.”
Similarly, the American Psychological Association has repeatedly affirmed its stance against these practices, recently stating that efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation can pose serious health risks to LGBTQ+ individuals. Numerous other accredited medical and mental health organizations have echoed this sentiment, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Counseling Association.
Steps by states
As part of their duty to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens, several states have taken their own steps to protect minors from the potentially dangerous effects of conversion therapy. California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have all banned licensed professionals from using conversion therapy on minors. Since last year, lawmakers in 18 other states have introduced similar legislation.
In a 2013 signing statement for his state’s legislative ban, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expressed that “exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of the benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.” In February 2015, a New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled that advertising a service that could change a person’s sexuality is fraudulent and violates the state’s consumer protection laws.
While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this Administration would support.
The importance of family support
Family relationships are pivotal to the physical and emotional well-being of any child, including LGBTQ+ youth. Every child needs love, support, and acceptance to grow, dream, and thrive. LGBTQ+ youth with supportive families and friends show greater well-being, better general health, and significantly decreased risk for suicide, depression, and substance abuse.
Countless families and guardians across the country proudly support their LGBTQ+ children. Too many LGBTQ+ youth, however, lack this support system, which can have devastating consequences. Negative family reactions to LGBTQ+ youth can be perceived as rejection by children, often contributing to serious health issues and inhibiting a child’s development and well-being. And when it comes to LGBTQ+ youth, some actions by family and caregivers can be harmful, despite even the best intentions.
This Administration believes that young people should be valued for who they are, no matter what they look like, where they’re from, the gender with which they identify, or who they love.
We hope that the resources below can be of use to LGBTQ+ youth, their families, and friends.
LGBTQ+ youth issues are an Administration priority: Resources for LGBTQ+ youth, their families, and friends
In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services launched StopBullying.gov, aimed at providing valuable resources and support to youth, parents, and community members with the goal of building a safe environment for all youth, including LGBTQ+ youth.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) supports positive dialogues between providers, families, and LGBTQ+ youth, and has developed A Practitioner's Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children to help providers implement best practices in engaging and helping families and caregivers to support their LGBTQ+ children.
LGBTQ+ youth homelessness
To advance the Administration's goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020, federal agencies have developed partnerships to create and promote a research-informed framework that focuses on improving data quality and service capacity to support highly vulnerable homeless youth, including LGBTQ+ youth, youth involved in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, and pregnant and parenting youth.
 See generally California Senate Bill No. 1172 (2012).
 American Psychoanalytic Association, Position Statement on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression (2012).
 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Statement Upon Signing Assembly Bill No. 3371 (Aug. 19, 2013).
 (SAMHSA, p. 5).
 (SAMHSA, p. 2).
We wanted to follow up on our response to your petition on banning conversion therapy to tell you about a new report called "Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth" from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report provides an in-depth review of research and clinical expertise related to conversion therapy.
This important new resource makes it clear that conversion therapy is not appropriate, and explores alternative ways to discuss sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression with young people.
It also includes the first publication of consensus statements developed by an expert panel convened by the American Psychological Association in July 2015. The expert panel included researchers and practitioners in child and adolescent mental health with a strong background in gender development, gender identity, and sexual orientation in children and adolescents. Experts with a background in family therapy, ethics, and the psychology of religion also participated.
Here's what they determined:
Through a collaborative process, this panel found that variations in sexual orientation and gender identity are normal, and that conversion therapies or other efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity are not effective, are harmful, and are not appropriate therapeutic practices.
And if you have questions about the report, you can ask today on the White House Tumblr . To celebrate LGBTQ Spirit Day, we're holding a Q&A with President Obama's Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and SAMHSA's Special Expert for LGBT Affairs Elliot Kennedy at 2pm ET. Ask a question in our submit box, and we'll answer a bunch this afternoon.
As always, we'll be in touch with additional updates related to this issue as we get them!
--The We the People Team