President Obama
US President Barack Obama called for an end to conversion therapy for gay and transgender youth in a statement released by the White House on 8 April REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Barack Obama is calling for an end to controversial conversion therapies for gay and transgender youth, the White House announced on 8 April.

In a statement released by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, the administration stressed the importance of family support to LGBT youth and highlighted which states are already making moves against the practice.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth," the statement read. "As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

Conversion therapy, or reparative therapy as it is otherwise known, is a psychiatric practice that aims to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity. While still practised in several states, the American Psychiatric Association has officially opposed it since December 1998.

"The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy, which is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation," a statement on the association's website reads.

California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy on minors, the administration's statement reported. Eighteen other states have introduced legislation to ban the practice. According to the Huffington Post, those measures have failed in a number of states, including New York, Washington, Maryland,Virginia, Wisconsin and Illinois.

While coming out against conversion therapy, the administration was cautious about advocating for a national ban. "While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this administration would support," the statement said.

The statement came as a response to a "We the People" petition, which hoped to enact "Leelah's Law" to ban all conversion therapy. The intended bill is named in honour of 17-year-old transgender youth Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide after her parents subjected her to conversion therapy.

According to the petition, Leelah wrote a suicide note on 27 December 2014 and posted it on Tumblr before walking in front of a truck. The teen's note stated her parents subjected her to conversion therapy, removed her from school and isolated her in an attempt to change her gender identity.

Jarrett spoke to the New York Times and said that the president had been moved by Leelah's story, but that the problem encompassed more than one person. "It was tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately, she has a lot of company," Jarrett said. "It's not the story of one young person. It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this."

Several LGBT advocate groups and medical associations have repeatedly stated the harmful effects of conversion therapy.

A position statement by the International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses states ISPN "believes that there is a critical need for increased awareness of and attention to the potential threat that 'reparative therapy' poses to the health and well-being of lesbian, gay and bisexual persons."

A report by the American Psychiatric Association Task Force further added that conversion therapies, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), not only do not work but are harmful to those who participate in them.