Too little, too late: The harm caused by conversion therapy

Map of states that have banned gay conversion therapy. (Tribune News Service)
Map of states that have banned gay conversion therapy. (Tribune News Service)

In December 2014, transgender teen Leelah Alcorn committed suicide. Before committing suicide, Alcorn wrote on her Tumblr page,“If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender.”

Alcorn was born Joshua Ryan Alcorn and grew up outside of Cincinnati. According to the Washington Post, Alcorn “came from a conservative Christian household, which, she wrote, reacted ‘extremely negatively’ to her decision to come out as transgender.”

In November 2014, Alcorn posted a message on Reddit titled, “Is this considered abuse?” In her post, she discussed how her parents had refused her request to start treatment to transition to a woman and forced her to see “biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to (her) feelings would try to change (her) into a straight male who loved God.”

After her death, her blog posts went viral on Reddit and Tumblr, and soon the world was listening to Alcorn’s plea.
There is only one reason why this all occurred — one reason why Alcorn committed suicide. That reason is conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is a pseudo-scientific practice enacted by therapists in order to “cure” participants of their deviant sexual orientation or gender identity. Widely condemned by psychiatric professionals as barbaric and psychologically damaging, conversion therapy has been outlawed in of California and New Jersey, but is still legal in the 48 remaining states.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association (APA) enacted a resolution “stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.” The resolution adopted by the APA advised “parents, guardians, young people and their families to avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness.”

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama issued a statement in which he condemned the practice of conversion therapy, stating, “as part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

We often praise politicians for their endorsement of gay rights — we commend them for stepping up, for taking a stand. But, to me, and to Alcorn, it is too little too late.

We as a country often react to issues rather than prevent them. We let suffering occur until it gets so despicable that we finally step in. Then, we pat ourselves on the back for even suggesting intervening.

Much needs to be done to prevent the suffering, psychological harm and death caused by this contemptible ignorance. We must stop conversion therapy not because it is politically progressive, but because it is wrong.

While it is important that Obama has endorsed banning conversion therapy, it is not new. Rather, it is an echo of the voices of countless members of the LGBTQ community that have gone unheard and suffered until now.

It took the life of a young woman to make this country realize that conversion therapy is barbaric. Hopefully, in the future, we will prevent rather than react.