The Next Step

Leelah Alcorn (d. 27 December 2014)

In January, all of a week after Leelah Alcorn committed suicide, the White House “We the People” program received a petition for a new law, named in her honor, that would prohibit a devastating fake therapeutic practice called conversion therapy.

The petition drew 120,958 signatures before its period closed. This week, the White House responded.

The statement, authored by Valerie Jarrett, begins as follows:

“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. 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.”

— President Barack Obama

Thank you for taking the time to sign on to this petition in support of banning the practice known as conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy generally refers to any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, this practice is used on minors, who lack the legal authority to make their own medical and mental health decisions. We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth.

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 ....

This is important.

Thank you, Mr. President.

To the other, there are the caveats. There is the question of the petition, which seeks to banish all such conversion therapy, and the response, that “supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors”. Generally speaking, the practice is no less unhealthy when used against adults, but as Jarrett notes, minors are not allowed under the law to stand up for themselves in these issues. As to the adults, it is one thing to suggest they are free to submit themselves to this sort of abuse if they want, but there are other routes. Two states and the District of Columbia prohibit licensed professionals from using conversion therapy against minors. Eighteen states are considering similar standards. In New Jersey, Governor Chrisie has denounced the use of conversion therapy against minors, and earlier this year we saw a ruling from a Superior Court asserting that advertising such services violates consumer protection laws in the Garden State.

The White House response acknowledges the obvious, which is that Leelah’s Law would require congressional action, and it should be fair to assert that we all understand what that means in practice. To that end, the question is what manner of advocacy Mr. Obama would have his administration undertake.Transgender sign

Which in turn raises the question of just how ugly this can get. For instance, if it is true that social conservatives are picking fights they will lose in order to rally their ranks, then Leelah’s Law could become a focal point. In 2007, Mitt Romney explained that a child would be better off orphaned than living with gay parents, which in itself was pretty damn low. But how far are Republicans and their supporters willing to take this notion of better dead than gay?

So here is the deal: This is the fight, and there is only one possible outcome. We … will … win. But that does not mean this will be easy. The opposition treats cruelty as a virtue, and will spray their venomous rhetoric everywhere, even hoping to drown the discourse in hatred. And while it is impossible to tell anyone to not worry about it, or suggest that the hurt such cruelty causes is a sign of cowardice or weakness about the wounded, it is absolutely vital that we recognize the context in which this sickness will come before us.

And hatred is a sickness.

But it is also a sign.

Once upon a time, they spoke with the confidence of believing they would never have to answer for their cruelty. Bigots facing the loss of their bully privileges inevitably feel stung, as if some divine right is being unjustly stolen. And this is why they shriek; that day of reckoning they imagined would never come draws nigh, and all these people have left to do is bawl their lamentations unto some caricature of God, or, quite simply a Universe far too mechanical to give a meaningful damn about them. The prospect of equality terrifies supremacists.

We are winning. They are frightened to piercing, grating dysfunction at the thought.

They will lash out. They will rage. They will hate.

And they will lose.

The challenges facing gender identity communities are immense, even as our stumbling abbreviation strides toward victory. It is not a matter of some metaphorical stanching. In this “culture war”, the LGBTQ+ community is taking genuine casualties. And we are not yet finished losing our friends and neighbors.

Just a little bit longer, friends. Just hold on a little … bit … longer.

We are winning. There is only one outcome left for this fight.

And we can do this. All of us, together.

Please remember this in the coming battle. Their words and actions will be cruel, but they are losing. It is the hatred that rises from fear, and what frightens them is the looming end of their power to abuse their fellow human beings.

We owe this fear no sympathy.

Indeed, enjoy it. Just, you know, don’t gloat … too much.

And amid the surge of soul-searing poison, remember that you are well within your rights to simply laugh in their faces. Their hatred is significant of our victory.

And we will win.

But there are still these last fights to have, because they will kick and scream and thrash and bite and wail every step of the way. And yes, it is intended to be hurtful.

Not one of us is alone.

It is far too easy to say, “Don’t let it get you down.” Not when it is your family, or whole community.

But please remember that this will happen because they are losing, because they are afraid. The unknown is scary, but think about what it is they are losing, and then consider what they get in return. It makes for a nice slogan, to stand, speak, fight, win, but in the end what we are winning is a chance to love, and for far too many, the chance to simply live.

This will be rough. It will get ugly. But we have come so far, and these last clashes all lead to an inevitable result. We can do this. But we need to do it together. All of us.

We cannot promise that nobody else gets left behind. But we can sure as hell try.

We’re winning.

Hang on. We’re almost there. Just a little more, just a little longer.



Jarrett, Valerie. “Response to Your Petition on Conversion Therapy”. The White House. 8 April 2015.

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