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An Ohio transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, born Josh Alcorn, walked across a highway over winter break and was hit by a truck. She programmed her Tumblr account to post a suicide note that day. In it she described her parents’ attempts to change her gender identity through isolation, taking her out of school and putting her into conversion therapy.
When junior Alex Long, who is also transgender, heard about the incident via Tumblr, he was reminded how controversial LGBT rights are. He thought some of the anger was towards Leelah’s parents for continuing to use male pronouns and Leelah’s birth name, while others aimed their anger at Leelah.
Alex’s mom, Terri Long, is a psychiatrist. When Alex came out to her, she was worried.
“[My reaction] was being apprehensive about what his future would hold,” she said.
Terri was afraid of how other people would react.
Terri said that she never considered conversion therapy for Alex. She said that none of the psychiatrists she’s heard from believe in conversion therapy for minors because it is ineffective and can be dangerous.
“It doesn’t work and it’s harmful,” Alex said. “[Leelah’s] parents put her in a situation she wasn’t supposed to be going through; it’s appalling.”
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, aims to change the patient’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Reparative therapy has been controversial since its use became widespread in the 90’s. It used to consist of physical treatments like electroshock therapy, but now less drastic, cognitive treatments performed by counselors are more common.
Leelah’s story and her suicide note spread through social media and because of the attention Leelah’s story has gotten, people are joining the fight to ban conversion therapy in all states. Currently only two states, New Jersey and California, along with Washington DC, have laws banning conversion therapy for minors, while in Kansas there aren’t any laws prohibiting the use of conversion therapy.
Transgender Human Rights Institute made a petition on change.org calling out to President Obama to ban transgender conversion therapy. As of Jan. 20, the petition has around 326,835 supporters.
There’s another petition on the White House web site titled “Enact Leelah’s Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy” with about 63,000 signatures as of Jan. 20.
East counselor Becky Wiseman thinks that minors should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to go through conversion therapy.
“The idea of therapy is self determination,” Wiseman said. “That people get to the place where they want to be, not parents, not grandparents, not school officials, but where a person wants to be… in their own life.”