#BornPerfect: A Year In, and We’re Not Backing Down

By Sam Ames#BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Staff Attorney

A year ago, we set out with a goal—protect LGBTQ children from conversion therapy by wiping out the dangerous and discredited practice in just five years.

Since then, our #BornPerfect campaign has helped protect thousands of kids across the country from practices linked to severe depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. And we couldn’t have done it without you by our side.

Here’s a snapshot:

  • In #BornPerfect’s first year, we helped bring laws to Washington D.C., Oregon, and Illinois that protect LGBTQ kids from being subjected to “treatment” that falsely claims to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. This brings us to FIVE jurisdictions that have passed these laws (NCLR helped pass similar legislation in California in 2012 and in New Jersey in 2013).
  • We successfully defended several of those laws in court against constitutional challenges. Last summer, NCLR intervened on behalf of New Jersey’s Garden State Equality and helped win the case in the U.S. Court for the District of New Jersey, followed by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Supreme Court declined to review the favorable ruling, sending the law into effect earlier this year.
  • We made history at the United Nations in Geneva last fall when we testified before the Committee Against Torture, which expressed its concern over the practice that’s still being used on LGBTQ youth across the United States. Just months later, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a landmark report calling on governments around the world to take action to end conversion therapy once and for all.
  • We worked closely with the White House this spring to support President Obama, Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in calling on states to pass legislation protecting youth from practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity that have been condemned by every major medical and mental health association.
  • We worked with Congressman Ted Lieu to introduce a federal bill months ago that would define the practice of conversion therapy as illegal consumer fraud. If passed, this law could effectively cripple the conversion therapy industry, making for-profit conversion therapy illegal nationwide. The introduction built on three years of groundbreaking work by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who in 2012 introduced the first federal bill to deal with conversion therapy—the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) Resolution.

Many considered our goal ambitious. But with your faith and support, we have been able to make history time and time again. From the entire #BornPerfect team, and from all the survivors who have been empowered by your support to tell their stories, we can’t thank you enough.

We know the next four years won’t be easy. We’ve seen our opponents come out in force in states from California to Oklahoma, where, just a few months ago, we beat back legislation that would have made conversion therapy immune from regulation. But, with you by our side, we won. And, with you by our side, we’re going to keep on winning.

Together, we’re going to stand up for our kids. And we promise we won’t back down until the day every child knows they were #BornPerfect.

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.

NCLR Urges U.N. Committee Against Torture to End Conversion Therapy

By Sam Ames#BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator & Staff Attorney

This Tuesday, I will walk into the historic Palais de Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to meet with representatives of the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State as part of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ #BornPerfect campaign to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy, the dangerous and discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through everything from talk therapy to exorcism to “orgasmic reconditioning.”

Under the Convention Against Torture, the United Nations has the power to address the practice of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” including forcible or coercive treatment based on the false premise that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a mental illness that can and should be cured. Shockingly, while two states have enacted laws that protect youth against this harmful practice, some unethical therapists continue to practice conversion therapy on children in 48 states. The result, especially for vulnerable youth, is lifelong damage that can include depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

I’ll be joined in Geneva by human rights advocates from across the country, including Samuel Brinton, a survivor of these practices who travels the world advocating for the rights of LGBT youth. Sam is one of thousands of survivors who know the consequences of conversion therapy all too well. Sam, like many others, was told by a licensed therapist that being gay meant being alone forever. Over the course of therapy, Sam was subjected to lies and manipulation, physical restraints, extreme temperatures, needles, and even electric shocks.

According to a 2009 report by the American Psychological Association, other techniques used to associate being LGBT with pain include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; and satiation therapy. While many therapists have abandoned such crude techniques in recent years, they are far from gone, and it is still common to attempt to bribe or discipline children out of gender non-conforming behaviors, have patients snap a rubber band around their wrist whenever they have a sexual impulse, or pressure youth to attribute their identity to repressed sexual abuse.

Part of what makes conversion therapy so dangerous is that the same people arguing that being LGBT is a disease are the ones selling the cure. But they aren’t just selling snake oil; they’re selling poison. The conversion therapy industry preys on the confusion and anxiety of well-meaning parents, distilling genuine concern for their family’s well-being into fear that their children are sick. But, with study after study demonstrating how ineffective and harmful these practices are, it’s clear that proponents are not motivated by concern for their patients’ well-being, but by financial gain and anti-LGBT ideology.

Many of the groups who perpetuate the myth that LGBT people can and should be changed here in the United States also advocate for more extreme policies abroad. In countries like Uganda, home of the infamous ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, these myths are being used to persecute and murder LGBT people. Though the conversion therapy industry has undertaken efforts in recent years to make their practices more palatable, especially in the United States, there is a direct connection between the dangerous premises of conversion therapy and a resurgence of global efforts to demonize LGBT people, criminalize their very existence and incite both private and government-sponsored violence against them.

Next week, as representatives of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ #BornPerfect campaign, we will bring the facts about conversion therapy to the Geneva and urge the UN Committee Against Torture and the U.S. State Department to help us bring this issue to the international stage. The time is long overdue for the United States and the rest of the world to address the devastation that the purveyors of these toxic practices wreak in lives of LGBT people. Next week, we’ll give them the chance to end conversion therapy for good.

You can follow us in Geneva by following the hashtags #BornPerfect and #EndTorture, on our website at www.NCLRights.org, and on Twitter @nclrights@SamSAmesEsq, and @SBrinton. You can also share your own stories using these hashtags.