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The News & Advance: Transgender community rallies against conversion therapy Print


Created:  Saturday, January 24, 2015 8:05PM


Members of the LGBT community came out to Monument Terrace on Saturday afternoon in Lynchburg to educate the public on the rights of transgender youth in response to the suicide of an Ohio youth.

In December, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, of Kings Mill, Ohio, stepped in front of tractor-trailer to end her life. Alcorn's parents refused to accept her transition to a woman and forced Leelah to undergo conversion therapy after coming out as transgender.

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is used to purportedly change sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, or to convince a transgender person to give up their gender identity and identify with their birth gender.

The American Association of Pediatrics and American Psychological Association have released statements condemning the practice among licensed therapists.

Julianna Fialkowski, herself a transgender woman, said conversion therapy causes more suicides and despair than anything else.

"We went to a march for Trans rights in (Washington) D.C. We marched through town, and stopped in front of the Department of Justice," Fialkowski said.

A bill barring licensed counselors and therapists from practicing conversion therapy on minors was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates, HB 1385, and sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope. Hope spoke during a press conference Tuesday about the bill.

"Conversion therapy, also called reparative therapy, is based on the false assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or a sin. Well, let me be very clear: It is not. There is no on/off switch to sexual orientation," he said.

Conversion therapy is banned for use in minors in California and New Jersey.

Fialkowski said she hoped the demonstration Saturday would "open people's eyes and ears" and educate their legislators on the dangers of conversion therapy.

In the Senate, an identical bill was voted down in committee Thursday. Sens. Tom Garrett and Steve Newman, who were among the no votes, said the bill was an unprecedented bid to censor speech and usurp the parent's role.

"I asked them to name one other place in Virginia code where we said, 'if you say these words, you will lose your license,' and they couldn't," said Garrett, R-Buckingham. "It is, to me, a really, really dangerous step down a road of criminalizing speech and thought. And I wouldn't vote for that no matter what the subject matter was. That bill was un-American to its core."

Neither Garrett nor Newman took a position on the validity of conversion therapy. During Thursday's hearing, the Senate Education and Health Committee heard from people on both sides of the issue.

"I think an individual and parent should be able to select the type of counseling they want," said Newman, R-Forest. "I don't think we should have government come in and say we are not going to allow a Christian viewpoint in counseling. If we did, I think the courts would smack you down quickly."

"It's not up to you or me or the General Assembly to decide they like a certain kind of speech or like a certain type of counseling. That is a decision the physician, or the counselor in this case, and the parent can make without the government getting involved."

The bill, Senate Bill 988, was killed on a party line vote of 7-8.

About 50 people showed up to the first hour of the demonstration in Lynchburg and many more drove by to "honk" their support.

Lynchburg resident Abbie Hale said trans-people need support because they are people, too.

"The more we are out here, the more they see we are people, too," Hale said.

Rev. Marilynn Mattox, stood a few feet behind her partner, Hale, with a sign written "don't hate, educate." Mattox said more conservative religious people need to know LBTG people "love, have families and are worthy of all their rights."

There are two petitions on whitehouse.gov and change.org calling for "Leelah's Law" to ban conversion therapy. As of Saturday afternoon, 330,009 people signed the change.org petition and 17,798 signed the whitehouse.gov petition.