WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) –President Obama made clear this week he supports a ban on "conversion therapy" -- a controversial process that can also include counseling for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered teens.
Instead he backs his administration's explanation that "overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that neither conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm."
The petition was motivated in response to the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgendered and troubled teen who committed suicide in December.
The petition has more than 120,000 signatures and calls for enactment of "Lelaah's Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy."
"[T]onight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember," Obama wrote. "Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out."
A leading researcher, psychiatrist, and educator, Paul R. McHugh, the Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, in an editorial published June 12, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal, disputes the information in the petition, however.
McHugh, who served as Psychiatrist-in-Chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1975–2001, addressed a movement he has said is in "overdrive" in "advancing the transgender cause."
Policy makers and the media, McHugh claims, "are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention."
"'Sex change' is biologically impossible," he said. And he strongly criticized efforts to legalize what he described as the subjective "feeling of gender" that "being in one's mind, cannot be questioned by others."
At issue in the Alcorn situation is his writings in which he described visits to Christian therapists as "very biased." He also accused his parents of denying his requests to transition to a woman.
"The individual often seeks not just society's tolerance of this 'personal truth' but affirmation of it," McHugh wrote in the journal article. The end result is a demand for "transgender equality" including government payment for medical and surgical treatments, "and for access to all sex-based public roles and privileges."
McHugh cited science, not political or social views to support his conclusions about transsexuality.
"When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25% did have persisting feelings; what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned," he said.
Moreover, he described the policy change at Johns Hopkins University in 1979 after tracking transgender people who had surgery with those who did not. He said most of the surgical patients described themselves as "satisfied" but that their "psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery."
On those results, Johns Hopkins Hospital stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, "since producing a 'satisfied' but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs," he wrote.
Recent research by the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Sweden appears to vindicate the decision.
In a long-term study that followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery, researchers found transgender individuals began to experience increasing mental difficulties about 10 years after having the surgery. Notably, this cohort experienced a suicide mortality rate almost 20 times more than the nontransgender population.
McHugh's conclusion is "The high suicide rate certainly challenges the surgery prescription."
Peter Sprigg with the Family Research Council and Bob Stith, the former national strategist on gender issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, last year weighed in on a story involving conversion or reparative-therapy.
Sprigg, FRC's senior fellow for policy studies, has written research and policy papers on human sexuality referenced broadly by the evangelical community.
"People can clearly change," Sprigg said.
"There are many people who have testified to a significant change in one, two or all three elements of their sexual orientation (attractions, behavior and self-identification)," he explained.
Sprigg said his studies have shown "if a person goes from experiencing same-sex attractions strongly and exclusively to experiencing them only fleetingly and occasionally, that is a highly significant change. And even if a former homosexual continues to experience same-sex attractions, but is able to live a fulfilled and faithful life while abstaining from homosexual conduct, that person has still changed in a meaningful way."
Stith, founder of the Family and Gender Issues Ministry in Southlake, Texas, has 20 years of experience in intentional ministry to homosexuals bracketing his time leading the Southern Baptist Convention on gender issues during a time of social, political and religious controversy – including same-sex marriage.
The Texas minister said, "[T]here is no question" that change happens when a person undergoes any kind of conversion therapy, but the question should be, "What does that change look like?"
"It's going to be different for different people," Stith continued. "I know guys and girls that when they came to Christ, they very quickly moved through whatever they needed to move through—whether it was group meetings, group meetings and therapy, therapy, or whatever—and they never looked back.
"I know others who said, 'Yeah, I still have that temptation sometimes, but I know that is not what I want. That is not who I am. So, I just turn and go on so it's not a big thing in my life,'" he said. "And then some of these, then, likely are also attracted to women, they grow an attraction for women, or in case of women, for men. I do know some who have married, not because they had a strong sexual desire, but because they loved a particular woman and they wanted to establish a home."
The bottom line, he said, is "whatever it looks like, it will free you from the power of domination from the same-sex attraction."
In California, licenses psyhologists, social workers, therapists and doctors have laws prohibiting therapists from seeking to "change the sexual orientation" of gay and lesbian teens, according to NYDailynews.com. Non-licensed practitioners such as church leaders and life coaches are not covered under the law, however.
Mathew Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel, in 2014 asked an appeals court to broaden the 2013 law to include licensed professionals who teens and families often seek for help.
"I am deeply saddened for the families we represent and for the thousands of children that our professional clients counsel, many of whom developed these unwanted attractions because of abuse of a pedophile," Staver said.
"The minors we represent do not want to act on same-sex attractions, nor do they want to engage in such behavior. They are greatly benefiting from this counseling."
New Jersey and the District of Columbia have similiar laws forbidding teens and children from receiving therapy from licensed practitioners -- even if they want to change, according to an article in the New York Times.