Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender woman, broke hearts across America when she posted a suicide note to Tumblr this past December. “My death needs to mean something," she wrote in part. "My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year."
At her parents' reported insistence, Leelah had been subjected to the controversial practice of "conversion therapy" in an attempt to change her gender identity. In her note posted online, Leelah urged the rest of us to "fix society." Now, it seems her pleas are finally being heard.
On Wednesday (Apr. 8), it was announced that President Obama has called for an end to all conversion therapy, The New York Times reported. The news comes after a whitehouse.gov petition, created in honor of Leelah Alcorn, garnered more than 120,000 signatures. The petition states that "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."
In an official statement released from the White House, Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett said: "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," she concluded.
The official White House statement also included a response from President Obama:
"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."
In 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reported that 41 percent of 7,000 transgender people surveyed had attempted suicide. And while the numbers aren't documented, young people like activist Mathew Shurka is among those forced to endure conversion therapy. He wrote about his harrowing experience for MTV News and his eventual efforts to end the treatment.
"This is a historic moment for love and acceptance," Mathew told us in an email on Wednesday. "President Obama stands with us to protect our youth, protect human rights, and tonight I cry tears of joy. From Alan Turing to Leelah Alcorn, to the many names we will never know who have taken their lives and the many more who will now not take theirs. This is the beginning of what it looks like for children today and future children to be born into a safe and loving world.”
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