Transgender teen’s death inspires petition against conversion therapy

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Ohio teenager Josh Alcorn posted this photo to Tumblr along with a suicide note on Sunday, signed with the name "Leelah." Alcorn expressed the desire to be accepted as a girl, and detailed her frustration with her family's refusal to accept her.

Ohio teenager Leelah Alcorn posted this photo to Tumblr along with a suicide note on Sunday. Alcorn, named Josh at birth, expressed the desire to be accepted as a girl, and detailed her frustration with her family’s refusal to accept her identity.

A petition to ban gender-conversion therapy, created in response to the death of transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, has garnered more than 200,000 signatures in two days.

The petition from the Transgender Human Rights Institute asks President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi to “immediately seek a pathway for banning the practice known as “transgender conversion therapy.”

Alcorn died after walking in front of a tractor-trailer on Sunday in Ohio. She left a suicide note on her Tumblr account describing her family’s negative reaction to her gender identity and her experience with conversion therapy. She called for greater acceptance of transgender people, writing:

The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.

The account has since been removed.

As many as one in three LGBT people have undergone a form of conversion therapy, which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The practice has been discredited by numerous mainstream health organizations that have linked it to an increased risk of depression and self-harm. Neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychological Association support the therapy. The National Association of Social Workers’ National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues (NCLGB) has said it can cause “severe emotional damage.”

New Jersey and California are currently the only states that have enacted bills banning the therapy. A similar bill was passed by the District of Columbia City Council in early December and is pending further review before becoming law.

Leo Sheng, who documented his transition from female to male via Instagram, said in an interview with the NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan that his family’s acceptance of his correct name and pronouns helped his transition. “It’s a representation of how you truly feel, and if people overlook that, they’re disregarding your identity,” he said.

He said he has still faced transphobia online. “They say ‘God made you the way you are,’ and you know, that’s true. God made me like this,” he said.

Sheng said he hoped his posts could help other transgender people, as a visible example of what it is like to transition.

If you need support, call the Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386.

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