Ohio Teen’s Suicide Stirs Conversion Therapy Discussion

By John Thomas
March 31, 2015

Ohio teen’s suicide stirs conversion therapy discussionThe suicide of an Ohio transgendered teenager who was forced into conversion therapy treatment has jump-started the discussion about the need for legislative bodies throughout the nation, including Congress, to prohibit the controversial practice for minors.

The Dec. 28 death of Leelah Alcorn, 17, of Kings Mills, a Cincinnati suburb, prompted the Transgender Human Rights Institute of Princeton, N. J., and other groups to start an online petition drive to create a federal law to prohibit conversion therapy for transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. The petition, which will be sent to President Obama and congressional leaders, has support from more than half a million people.

Alcorn, who was born Joshua, committed suicide by stepping into the path of a semi-trailer truck on Interstate 71 near her home north of Cincinnati.

It appears that legislation banning conversion therapy will be known as “Leelah’s Law” in her memory.

Another national organization, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, recently announced the formation of #BornPerfect: The Campaign to end Conversion Therapy. The San Francisco-based group said its goal is to work with state legislatures to end the practice within five years.

The story went international during the Golden Globe Awards event when Jill Soloway, the creator of the series Transparency, dedicated the award to Alcorn and the transgendered community. In her acceptance speech, Soloway said she wanted the show to teach its audience about “truth, authenticity and love.”

Efforts by several states to ban conversion therapy during the last four or so years have largely failed after the California Legislature approved the first-in-the-nation law in 2012, followed by the passage of a similar measure in New Jersey in 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down a request for a hearing from opponents of the California law and a similar appeal has been filed by opponents in New Jersey, following a lower court decision upholding its constitutionality.

More recently, the Washington, D.C., City Council unanimously approved banning conversion therapy for minors in the nation’s capital. Council member Yvette Alexander, chair of the health committee, said the ban would end in the district what nationwide “has been a problem for years.”

The measure was sponsored by Mary M. Cheh. It was opposed by the Family Research Council and Voices of the Voiceless, an organization of ex-gays, which said it will seek to overturn the ban in court action.

The New York Legislature came closest to approving such legislation when the lower house voted 86-28 last year to approve a bill sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat. The measure, however, was never considered by the State Senate.

In an editorial, The Journal News, a newspaper that circulates in the lower Hudson River counties of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, readers were reminded that the state could be the first to enact a “Leelah’s Law.” Hoylman has reintroduced the bill (S121-2015) and the newspaper urged that it be passed. “Children and their families must be protected from this junk science,” the editorial said. Hoylman’s bill has been referred to the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Among the states that will see legislation seeking the ban on conversion therapy are two where previous attempts met failure by being defeated in committee or not being referred to committee at all, Florida and Virginia. In Virginia, State Rep. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, has reintroduced the legislation that was defeated in committee last year. The Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee voted 7-8 in January to kill a bill sponsored by State Sen. Louise Lucas, a Portsmouth Democrat, outlawing conversion therapy, but a similar bill in the Virginia House is still under consideration.

In Florida, State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, is hoping his bill will at least be assigned to a committee for hearing, which it was denied last year.

In Illinois, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, and State Sen. Daniel Bliss, an Evanston Democrat, have introduced legislation in their respective chambers calling for an end to conversion therapy for minors in that state.

Cassidy introduced similar legislation during the last session of the Illinois legislature, but it failed 44-51. She later said that she had sought a vote too early. Equity Illinois said it was creating an education program to inform legislators on the negative aspects of conversion therapy and convince Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the bill when passed.

In Oregon, House Bill 2307 would outlaw conversion therapy for minors, but has yet to attract any sponsors. The Oregon Democratic Party endorsed such legislation in its platform adopted last year. Basic Rights Oregon is collecting signatures to force a vote on the issue, known as the Youth Mental Health Protection Act.

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