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Leelah Alcorn
Leelah Alcorn, the transgender youth who took her own life after being sent to "conversion therapy" by her parentsvia Tumblr

Obama wants to end conversion therapy for young LGBT people

The suicide of trans teenager Leelah Acorn has driven the damaging form of counselling into the spotlight

When 17-year-old trans teenager Leelah Acorn killed herself last year, it threw the spotlight on the horrific practice of conversion therapy. Practised by religious therapists and conservatives, it is designed to "repair" LGBT people. In her suicide note, Acorn blamed her parents for refusing to accept her gender identity and sending her to therapy, writing: "There's no way out... People say 'it gets better' but that isn't true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse."

Now US President Barack Obama has called for an end to such therapies in response to a petition begun in Alcorn's memory, which campaigns for the introduction of Leelah's Law. The proposed legislation would "ban the practice known as conversion therapy" and has since received over 120,000 signatures.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth," reads a statement by White House advisor Valerie Jarrett. "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

The official statement also included heartfelt remarks from Obama on the dangers of letting people fight their battles alone.

"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," he said. "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."

While gay conversion therapy for minors is banned in California and New Jersey, it remains in use in other parts of the country. States like Oklahoma are even seeking to pass legislation that protects conversion therapy. That's despite the fact that experts like the World Health Organisation and the American Medical Association regard the practice as wholly lacking in medical justification and damaging to health. 

In her suicide note, Alcorn wrote: "The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was... My death needs to mean something. Fix society. Please."