Obama Seeks Ban on Sexual Orientation ‘Conversion’ Therapy

President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is calling for a ban on psychiatric “conversion” therapies aimed at changing the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and transgendered youth, a top aide said Wednesday.

The White House shares concerns over the “potentially devastating effects” of the therapy, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said in a blog post on the White House website. She was responding to a petition calling for a federal law banning the practice.

“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,” Jarrett said. “This administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

The move represents the president’s latest effort to promote gay rights, though it’s largely symbolic. A national ban would require congressional action, the White House said.

In addition to publicly endorsing gay marriage in 2012, the president also revoked the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that kept openly gay individuals from serving in the military.

Youth Suicide

The web petition to ban conversion therapy was inspired by the case of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender youth in Ohio who committed suicide. In a note posted to her blog, Leelah said her parents had forced her to attend conversion therapy.

The practice, supported by some social conservatives and religious groups, includes treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have moved to ban licensed professionals from entering minors into conversion therapy. Earlier Wednesday, Republicans in the Colorado state Senate rejected a similar law.

Many professional medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, have issued statements opposing the use of conversion therapy.

The announcement from the White House on Wednesday coincided with the implementation of an executive order banning discrimination of openly gay or transgender federal employees and government contractors. Obama has also called on Congress to pass similar legislation that would protect workers nationwide.

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