By LGBTQ Nation
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
In December 2014, a tractor-trailer traveling down Interstate 71 in Ohio struck and killed Leelah Alcorn.
Alcorn, who identified as transgender, had posted a suicide note on her Tumblr in which she described her isolation, desperation, and depression—feelings she blamed, in part, on the “conversion therapy” her conservative Christian parents forced her to undergo. Alcorn’s parents believed their “sick” child could be forcibly turned back into a boy and “cured” of her attraction to males.
Alcorn’s death triggered international media attention. A little more than three months later, President Obama called for an end to conversion therapy and the White House issued a statement saying conversion therapy was potentially devastating to transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LGBTQ) young people.
Since then legislation has been introduced in many states across the country to ban the practice. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., already have laws or regulations protecting minors from conversion therapy, also known as “reparative” and “ex-gay” therapy, and a movement is underway for a national ban.
The Harmful Effects of Conversion Therapy
Discredited by the mainstream mental health community, including the American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy is viewed as ineffective, unscientific, and damaging.
“It’s trying to change the essence of the person,” said Dr. Joy Whitman, a licensed professional counselor with expertise on LGBTQ issues and core faculty member in the online Master of Arts in Counseling Program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. “We know that sexual orientation can be fluid. But it’s the coercion to change that is the harmful nature of it. The basic communication is that there is something wrong with you if you are same-sex attracted.”
In a feature for Counseling Today co-authored by Dr. Whitman, the authors note that there is “no scientific evidence published in psychological peer-reviewed journals that conversion therapy is effective” and no “longitudinal studies conducted to follow the outcomes for those individuals who have engaged in this type of treatment.”
However, they point out that research consistently shows the harmful effects of the practice. Conversion therapy thwarts self-acceptance, causing depression, anxiety, shame, self-hatred, social withdrawal and, like Alcorn, thoughts of suicide.
“There’s a crisis of identities that’s involved here for clients and a potential loss of family. And there is a deep sense of shame born from religion, society, the educational and legal systems, and the mental health systems,” said Dr. Whitman. “Especially for kids, there is a sense of failure in not being able to change that can cause a loss of community and disconnect from family.”