By Michael Nam
In the same week the executive order for protecting federal employees and contractors from discrimination went into effect, the Obama Administration continues to make progress on LGBT issues with an announcement taking on the harmful practice of ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy.
“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,” wrote Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president, in response to the White House petition calling for the ban. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
LGBT organizers and supporters applauded the stance, an especially timely one in light of the backlash against Indiana’s debacle over its discriminatory “religious liberty” bill. Despite wide support for protecting the LGBT community, especially among millennials, a few refuse to accept the scientific reality.
“Numerous examples exist of people who have successfully modified their sexual behavior, identity, and arousal or fantasies,” according to the NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality) website, a pro-conversion therapy organization.
“The so-called ‘conversion therapy’ has devastating consequences on LGBTQ people leading in some cases to suicide,” wrote Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director, in a statement. “This unsound practice is not based on any actual science and is instead denounced by medical and mental health professionals across the country including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and many other bodies of licensed practitioners.”
The American Psychiatric Association states:
There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of “reparative therapy” as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation, nor is it included in the APA’s Task Force Report, Treatments of Psychiatric Disorders. More importantly, altering sexual orientation is not an appropriate goal of psychiatric treatment.
The White House petition received its name from Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager who took her own life after undergoing the questionable treatment. “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human right,” she wrote in her final words. “Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.”
Evidence of the harmful effects of conversion therapy convinced Gov. Chris Christie to ban the practice in New Jersey. The only other places to restrict conversion therapy from being used on minors are California and the District of Columbia. Because federal action would require Congress to step in, the administration has called on more states to enact legislative restrictions.
The White House also announced that, in keeping with Obama’s executive order to strengthen anti-discrimination rules for federal employees, the White House now accommodates gender non-conforming staff and guests by offering a gender-neutral restroom in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Massachusetts, Florida and Texas are currently looking at legislation that could prevent transgender accommodation in public restroom facilities. While a seemingly small token of symbolism, this signifies a significant leap forward for the Obama administration.