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The White House wants to ban therapies that try to change kids' sexual orientation

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President Barack Obama and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
President Barack Obama and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Thursday called for a ban on conversion therapy treatments that seek to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth — which have been widely criticized as ineffective and harmful.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote in response to a petition, which launched after the suicide of trans teen Leelah Alcorn in December. "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."

Over the past few years, New Jersey, California, and Washington, DC, have prohibited licensed professionals from using conversion therapy on minors, which typically occurs as a result of parents rejecting their child's sexual orientation or gender identity.

But the White House called on more states to ban psychiatric therapy treatments, and suggested it would support a federal prohibition if Congress decided to act.

The medical community widely rejects conversion therapy

lgbt pride flag

The LGBT pride flag. (Shutterstock)

As the White House pointed out, top medical organizations have widely rejected conversion therapy as ineffective and potentially harmful to children, since it can perpetuate stigma against LGBT people. The American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Counseling Association have all issued statements against the practice.

A review of the research, released by the American Psychological Association in 2009, concluded conversion therapies are "unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of [conversion therapy] practitioners and advocates." The review also stated that "same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality."

But some parents continue forcing the therapies on their children after they reject their child's sexual orientation or gender identity, which can lead to horrible mental and even physical health outcomes. Research by San Francisco State University found that LGBT young people who were rejected by their families, compared with those who weren't rejected by their families, were eight times more likely to attempt suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times as likely to have unprotected sex.

So conversion therapy not only fails to change children's sexual orientation or gender identity, but the basis for it can also increase their chances of taking part in actually harmful behaviors. Those findings are why a few states — and now the White House — are taking steps against the practice.

Watch: How most states still discriminate against LGBT people

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