The Cost of Awareness

By Sam Ames#BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Staff Attorney

The suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn has prompted widespread media attention, including a focus on her description of how being sent to conversion therapy increased her sense of isolation and rejection. Now more than ever before, it is clear that there is an urgent need for more public discussion and education around the harms caused by conversion therapy. But some aspects of the recent conversations have been troubling.

I’ve spent the last several years working with survivors of these dangerous and discredited practices at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has been at the forefront of this issue for two decades. Six months ago, we launched our #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy for good, rooted in empowering those survivors to tell their stories in healing ways through advocacy and leadership. In conversations with both survivors and advocates since Leelah’s death, I’ve become increasingly aware of something that isn’t easy to address but that I can’t stay silent about anymore. Of all those weighing in on this horrific tragedy, some voices – including those of conversion therapy survivors—have been notably quieter and different in tone than others, and I think we need to talk about why.

While it’s impossible to deny that Leelah Alcorn’s final words have been a wake-up call to many who didn’t even know conversion therapy was still an issue, we need to make sure that the ways we talk about this aren’t risking anyone else’s safety. I’ve been thrilled to see a lot of discussions taking place over the last few weeks between individuals and organizations wanting to put an end to these ineffective and harmful practices. These conversations are long overdue. But they can also be triggering.

History tells us we should be wary of sudden calls to action that glorify victims of suicide, point fingers at simplified causes, or sensationalize details of an already gut-wrenching death. Before engaging on this issue, I’d encourage folks to check out ReportingOnSuicide.org,  a great resource on ways to prevent suicide contagion–something that occurs when a suicide is reported on in a way that contributes to another suicide. The cost of this moment is already too high. We can’t afford to let it get any higher. The best way we can honor Leelah’s memory isn’t an easy fix—as appealing as that is—but doing the hard, long-term work of making sure all ‪#‎LGBT kids feel safe and supported in their communities, their families, and their homes.

Leelah: “My death needs to mean something”

By Kate Kendell, Esq.NCLR Executive Director

“We are who we are, and there’s very little we can do to change our core. If we’re asked to change, there will be a chasm so deep inside of us that it will threaten our very life.”
–Jodie Patterson, mother of transgender child

The suicide last week of 17-year-old transgender girl Leelah Alcorn was a soul-crushing reminder of how our society is failing our transgender youth. Leelah’s parents rejected who she was and subjected her to conversion therapy, apparently believing the deadly lie that a person’s gender identity can be changed. In her last writings Leelah, left us with this charge: “Fix society. Please.”

Like countless LGBT youth across this country, Leelah struggled with the anguish and isolation of navigating a world in which her core identity was erased and rejected. Despite the gains we have achieved in securing the equal rights of LGBT people in many arenas, too many of our children continue to suffer the ravages of intolerance and bigotry.

Last year, we at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) launched our #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in five years. For more than 20 years, we have witnessed the terrible damage done by subjecting children to the discredited practices that are designed to change their immutable identity. We have talked to countless conversion therapy survivors, who continue as adults to experience deep emotional scars caused by these practices, even as they thrive and live accomplished lives. Tragically, we have also learned of too many of our brothers and sisters who did not survive.

In 1970, a 5-year-old gender non-conforming boy named Kirk Murphy began treatment at George Rekers’ clinic—a clinic that promised it could “cure” homosexuality—at UCLA. Like many children subjected to conversion therapy today, Kirk was rewarded for stereotypically masculine behaviors and punished for stereotypically feminine behaviors. Several years later, Kirk was pronounced cured, and George Rekers went on to build a highly influential career based, in part, on this so-called “success story.” When Kirk was 17, the two met again. Kirk told Rekers he was gay and suicidal and didn’t know what to do. Rekers continued to publish research citing his success story. Then, at 38, Kirk took his own life.

Today, the dangers of conversion therapy are well established. These practices have been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization across the country.  We want to believe that this barbaric practice has ended, but sadly, that is not the case. As many as one in three LGBT people have experienced some form of conversion therapy at the hands of a mental health professional or a faith leader. There are still many religious leaders that continue to preach that LGBT children are doomed to eternal damnation. Conversion therapists continue to peddle their sham practices to ignorant and vulnerable parents.

In the past two years we have helped pass legislation to stop conversion therapy on minors in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, and we have successfully defended those laws from challenges brought by the therapists who traffic in the lie of conversion therapy. But we must do more. And that is where you can help.

We need you to advocate in your state for laws that ban this harmful practice. We need you to talk about the dangers of conversion therapy to your friends and family. We need you to help us create a climate in which no loving parent would consider subjecting their child to these dangerous and discredited practices.

We are working with legislators across the country to stop conversion therapy, and we are bringing cases to hold those who subject youth to these dangerous practices accountable for the devastation they have caused. Your local advocacy, your voice, your support can help us realize the goal of #BornPerfect. We can end this condemned practice and we can give renewed hope to LGBT youth everywhere.

It is impossible to come to terms with Leelah’s death. But this tragedy strengthens our resolve to create a world in which all children are cherished and supported to become their authentic selves. Leelah’s utterly tragic and completely avoidable death must not be in vain. We can “fix society,” but we can’t do it without you.


The #BornPerfect Campaign will hold a Twitter Town Hall from 3:30-4:30 p.m. PT on Thursday, January 8, 2015, to discuss the fight to stop conversion therapy. Join the conversation with NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Kirk Murphy’s sister Maris Ehlers, survivor and mental health expert James Guay, faith leader Justin Tanis, and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Sam Ames. Ask questions in advance and during the Town Hall @NCLRights using #BornPerfect.

NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign Hosts Twitter Town Hall on Conversion Therapy

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (January 6, 2015)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) will host a Twitter town hall on Thursday, January 8 at 6:30 PM ET to discuss the dangers of conversion therapy, the efforts to stop these practices once and for all, and what the community can do.

The town hall is organized days after the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn, who took her life after facing years of rejection and enduring conversion therapy. Starting now, Twitter users can submit their questions using hashtag #BornPerfect.

The town hall panelists will include:

  • Kate Kendell, Esq. @KateKendell, NCLR Executive Director.
  • Maris Ehlers @mepinmin, sister of Kirk Murphy, who took his life at the age of 38 in 2003 after enduring conversion therapy as a child.
  • James Guay, LMFT @JamesTherapy, conversion therapy survivor, marriage and family therapist, and #BornPerfect Advisory Committee Co-Chair.
  • Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis @Justin_Tanis, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry Managing Director and co-author of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
  • Sam Ames, Esq. @SamSAmesEsq, NCLR Staff Attorney and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator.

NCLR has been at the forefront of efforts to protect youth and their families from these dangerous practices for more than two decades and helped pass legislation in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, NCLR launched its #BornPerfect campaign to stop conversion therapy across the country over the next five years by passing laws, fighting in courtrooms, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by attempts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

NCLR Statement on the Loss of Leelah Alcorn

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (January 2, 2015)—Vigils will be held in Ohio tomorrow to remember 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn and to raise support and acceptance for transgender youth.

Alcorn, from the Cincinnati suburb of Kings Mills, took her own life early Sunday morning after facing years of rejection and enduring the dangerous practice known as conversion therapy.

“We are deeply saddened by Leelah’s tragic death,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Youth Policy Director Shannan Wilber, Esq. “Like countless LGBT youth across this country, Leelah struggled with the anguish and isolation of navigating a world in which her core identity was erased and rejected. Despite the gains we have achieved in securing the equal rights of LGBT people in many arenas, too many of our children continue to suffer the ravages of intolerance and bigotry. They are rejected at home, bullied at school, and condemned at church. They are subjected to discredited and dangerous interventions designed to change their core identities. They are abandoned by the institutions charged with ensuring their safety and well-being. It is impossible to make sense of the senseless loss of a child. But this tragedy strengthens our resolve to create a world in which all children are cherished and supported to become their authentic selves.”

NCLR started its Youth Project more than two decades ago to ensure the safety and well-being of LGBT youth at home, in school, and in public systems of care through litigation, policy advocacy, and systemic reform. The project prioritizes full integration and affirmation of transgender youth, fair and equal treatment of LGBT youth in out-of-home care, and ending conversion therapy through NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

D.C. Council Passes Groundbreaking Bill to Protect LGBT Youth from Conversion Therapy

WASHINGTON, D.C., (December 2, 2014)—Today, the District of Columbia Council unanimously approved a bill that will protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy.

When signed into law, Washington, D.C. will become the third jurisdiction—behind California and New Jersey—to pass legislation protecting LGBT youth from practices that are known to cause severe depression and even suicide.

“Today, the DC Council sent a powerful message to LGBT youth and their families that they are accepted, supported, and loved,” said Sam Ames, NCLR staff attorney and coordinator of the #BornPerfect campaign at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). “The Council has used its authority to protect our most vulnerable youth from dangerous and discredited pseudoscience that tells them who they are is wrong, and reaffirmed the consensus of every major medical and mental health organization that all children are born perfect, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

NCLR, in conjunction with other organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, played a key role in organizing the coalition behind the bill, which was authored by Councilmember Mary M. Cheh. A broad range of groups supported the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, including national LGBT organizations, mental health organizations, faith leaders, youth advocates, reproductive justice groups, and civil rights organizations.

Earlier this year, NCLR launched the #BornPerfect campaign to protecting LGBT youth across the country from conversion therapy over the next five years by passing laws, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices.

Samuel Brinton: “A Therapist Told Me I Was Sick”

I never imagined I would be in Geneva, Switzerland, but last week there I was. I was no tourist, I was there to testify before a United Nations Committee. To say this was surreal would be a vast understatement.

In the two minutes that I was given to address the U.N.’s Committee Against Torture, I fought back tears as I described how a psychotherapist, at the request of my parents, tried to change my sexual orientation through conversion therapy when I was 10 years old.

You can help NCLR’s #BornPerfect protect LGBT kids with your donation. Will you support us in our fight to end this dangerous and discredited practice?

I told the Committee how the therapist said I was sick, that God hated me, and that the government was exterminating all LGBT people. My voice shook as I detailed the physical abuse I endured in an effort to make me straight, including being restrained and physically hurt.

But last week, as part of NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign delegation, I was finally vindicated. Our testimony resulted in the Committee addressing the issue of conversion therapy with the U.S. State Department for the first time in history. We brought international awareness to conversion therapy, a dangerous and discredited practice that is still wreaking havoc in the lives of youth across the country.

As co-chair of the #BornPerfect Advisory Committee, I hope that my testimony will save other children across the U.S. and around the world. No one should ever be told that they need to change who they are. WE ARE ALL BORN PERFECT.

Will you help us in our fight to end this practice in the next five years by donating today?

sam signature geneva

Onward,

Samuel Brinton
#BornPerfect Advisory Committee Co-Chair