President Barack Obama has publicly condemned “gay conversion” therapy on Wednesday and offered his support for those groups who seek to see the questionable practice forever banned in the United States.
The “conversion therapy” is a term used to cover a large array of religious and medical practices targeted at changing someone’s sexual orientation. Its adherents claim the therapy ‘repairs’ deviant sexual behavior, especially in young people.
President Obama urged US legislators on Wednesday to bring an end to such practices, as they have been scientifically document to cause great emotional damage to those affected by them. The president’s message was triggered by an online petition posted on WhiteHouse.gov addressing the case of Leelah Alcorn.
Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender, committed suicide after undergoing religious therapy during which ‘specialists’ tried to convince her she was a boy. The White House petition, condemning “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, gathered more than 120,000 signatures and was publicly backed on Wednesday by President Obama.
Mr. Obama focused on the great emotional turmoil a young man or woman faces while keeping her sexual orientation secret. The president claimed it is the responsibility of the American public opinion if these young people choose to open up or live in fear of being rejected. “It also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build,” Obama wrote.
The problem touches another level when the person involved is underage, or still depends on his or her parents. Leelah Alcorn claimed to have been forced by her parents to undergo the religious therapy that eventually led to her death.
While educating public opinion is an important step, the president argued there are some pragmatic, legal measures that have to be taken first. Quoting scientific data that proved “reparative therapy” not only to be ineffective, but harmful, Mr. Obama suggested such practices need to be outlawed. ‘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,” the White House statement specified.
White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said that while President Obama and his staff were all moved by Leelah Alcorn’s story, they seek to address an issue affecting a large part of US citizens. “It’s not the story of one young person. It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this,” Jarett said.
Obama’s reaction to the petition also marks a significant evolution in the president’s opinion on gay issues during the past years. While initially he was opposing gay marriage, Obama is now a firm supporter of same-sex families and constantly advocates for no discrimination against gay people in government and public offices, where his word as president carries a greater weight.
While on Wednesday he did not specifically call for a federal legislation piece banning “reparative therapy”, Obama offered his support for both Republicans and Democrats looking to propose such a law. For now, the White House believes a lot can be done to stop the harmful therapy from within state legislatures.
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