Therapeutic Fraud: A Matter of Life and Death

What does it take to, in the last words of 17-year-old , “fix society”? Regarding potentially banning anti-”, apparently it takes a 17-year-old girl to step in front of a semi truck, after leaving a detailed note on her blog. Leelah Alcorn killed herself last December, and explained the abuses her parents forced on her after she came out as .

She wrote, “My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.


When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.


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. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Nearly a year after her death, Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, introduced a bill called the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act. If passed, this will classify anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” as fraudulent and illegal, and it will ban all advertising for the practice.

Why do LGBTQ people have to kill themselves for the mainstream media, federal government, and general public to start fixing society? That’s a complex question, but worth considering.

LGBTQ people “come out”, not for attention, activism, or even to celebrate our genders and/or sexuality. We come out because if we don’t, people will continue assuming we’re straight and cis. Our broken society considers straight and cis the default, normal, and healthy standards. Most people assume everyone is straight and cis until told otherwise. Everyone is assigned a gender from birth, which is enforced and conditioned socially, medically, and legally. Adults push heterosexuality onto children, even dressing babies in blue onesies with “Ladies Man” stamped on their chests. If kids have friendships with peers of the “opposite” binary gender, adults often tease them, asking, “is that your girl/boyfriend?” Heteronormative sex education dominates the school curricula, leaving people to learn about LGBTQ experience from their peers, parents, church, government, and media, which may not provide accurate or respectful perspectives.

Leelah Alcorn’s suicide is not the first time someone spoke out about the traumatic effects of “conversion therapy”. A gay man named Matthew Shurka went with his father to a “therapist” in Los Angeles 10 years ago, who claimed they could “cure” him of his sexual orientation. Shurka spent thousands of dollars over five years, only to fight with his family, internalize the homophobic hatred of his “therapist”, consider suicide, and still find himself attracted to men.

Until 1973, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder. Being transgender was classified as a mental disorder until 2013 (the associated with being still is). As Rep. Lieu’s Therapeutic Fraud bill reflects, people are progressing. Four states, plus Washington DC and Cincinnati have banned conversion therapy. But is that enough?

When Alcorn begged us to fix society, did she mean only at the legislative level? Let’s consider this from a supply-demand perspective. Banning conversion therapy may take care of the supply, but what about the demand? Fact is, our society still has quite a high demand for people who abuse LGBTQ people by attempting to “cure them” (or at least turn a profit).

Fixing society means eliminating both the supply and demand for “conversion therapy”. That means normalizing LGBTQ existence. That means questioning our assumptions that the next person we meet is straight and cis. That means stopping the practice of assigning and enforcing gender. That means correcting someone who calls his buddy a homo or says Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman. It’s not enough to get rid of “conversion therapy”. We need to help people realize that no one needs to be converted.

That said, the legislative aspect is still important. Please call and write your Congressperson and urge them to support the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act. Also, the next Congressional election is right around the corner. Make sure you’re registered to vote, and then do so! Generally, Democrats support LGBTQ equality more than Republicans. Young people need to vote. Especially in Ohio, a swing state, your vote makes a significant difference, believe it or not. On the issue of therapeutic fraud, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

If you’re a therapeutic fraud survivor or otherwise considering suicide, please call one of these hotlines:

Straight/Cis Population: 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Project (LGBTQ youth): 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

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