Seattle Bans Conversion Therapy

The Seattle City Council voted to ban conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth on August 1st. The vote was unanimous.

Seattle is the third city to ban conversion therapy (or “reparative” therapy), joining Washington DC and Cincinnati.

Conversion therapy is an attempt to change LGBTQ youth and make them straight. It has been condemned by “every major medical and mental health organization in the United States” based on a body of evidence that the “therapy” can be affirmatively harmful to LGBTQ youth, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Author Garrard Conley , who has undergone the therapy, calls it a “death sentence”.

Seattle City Councilwoman Debora Juarez likens it to the forced assimilation of Native Americans into mainstream Eurocentric culture.

Conversion therapy is the 20th century or 21st century version of what happened to my people all in the name in assimilation. We were forcibly taken from our families, from our children. I am literally one generation removed from that practice. –Debora Juarez, member of the Blackfoot nation.

Conversion therapy (along with the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their chosen gender) is addressed by the Republican Platform, which states that “reparative” therapy should be available and that it should be left up to the parents of LGBTQ youth whether or not to subject them to it.



Nonbinary Gender

I am a cisgendered woman who feels deeply comfortable in the gender I was born into. I love being female. I loved being a little girl in the 70’s, part princess, part “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar”. And I love being a mother, loved having two kids, one boy, one girl, the perfect match.

So it threw me for a loop last year when my 14 year old told me they were bi-gender.

I am a cisgendered woman who feels deeply comfortable in the gender I was born into.  I love being female.  I loved being a little girl in the 70’s, part princess, part “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar”.  And I love being a mother, loved having two kids, one boy, one girl, the perfect match.

So it threw me for a loop last year when my 14 year old told me they were bi-gender.  I’d met transgender people before — in fact a 12 step sponsor had moved from being one of the most kick-ass women I knew to one of the most kick-ass men I knew.  I thought I was pretty open minded and accepting, for someone from Kansas City.  People are people, I loved to say.  Flesh is flesh.

But hearing that my kid felt genuinely not one gender or the other, and strongly gender fluid kind of–well, blew my mind.  I tried to demonstrate my understanding: “Do you want me to use male pronouns?” I asked.  “Because I can totally do that.”

“I’m okay with all pronouns,” they told me.

I asked if they wanted to change their name.

“I don’t know,” they told me. “Not right now.” And as they spoke and read and thought more and more about it, they came more into their own power about their gender fluidity.

“I’m not bi-gender actually,” they told me a year later.  “I’m more like — well, I guess you could call it ‘pangender’.”

As a mom, I really wanted them not to be gender atypical.  I was keeping my mouth shut, and trying to be supportive.  But if I had spoken what I really felt?

It’s such a hard life, I would have said (the same thing my mom said to me when I told her I had a girlfriend). People don’t understand.  I want you to be safe.

I want you to be safe. I recognize the  fear in that statement, masquerading as concern.  I recognize the hypocrisy of working for a sex positive world, yet wanting my kid to be the gender I thought they were.

Fortunately, the world around me is moving fast.  It won’t let me sit still in my ignorance. While fearful people try to criminalize authentic identity, a wave of identity positive people try to protect the human rights of transgender people, and often nonbinary gender people, although they are more invisible.

Why must everyone be labeled male or female?  Why must anyone identify so strongly with gender at all?  In a more equitable world, shouldn’t it be more important whether a person is kind, loving, creative, active, effective?  Shouldn’t it matter more that the person is a whole human being with rights inherent by birth no matter what gender they are or aren’t?

Today the Kansas City Star published an article on gender.  Both the states of Kansas and Missouri have introduced “bathroom bills,” bills that would force transgender people (and by extension, nonbinary people) to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate. Kansas has introduced a bill allowing people who see a transgender person using the “wrong” bathroom on a college campus to sue the school for $2,500 per incident, essentially putting a bounty on transgender people.

But today the Kansas City Star published an article asking “What does it mean to be nonbinary or genderqueer?” and looking at three people’s experience with their nonbinary gender identities, and adding a video focusing on them.

Way to go, Kansas City Star and kudos to reporters Cindy Hoedel, Robert Trussell, Dawn Novascone, and videographers Keith Meyers and Monty Davis.  Also, heartfelt gratitude to the three courageous people who share their stories: Hannah Holloway, Kasimir Hazlemir, and V Rogers.

Here’s the video that goes with the article.

Rabbit Hole: ACP statement, Dr. McHugh, Leelah’s Law

Symbol-des-Tages_TransGender_2006-03-29From Think Progress:  Hate Group Masquerading as Pediatricians Attacks Transgender Youth:

As trans activist Brynn Tannehill pointed out in her own debunk of ACP’s statement, it appears to have been spearheaded by Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University. He is one of the only prominent doctors in the country that rejects transgender equality, distorting and rejecting research as is necessary to do so. Conservatives regularly rely on him to prop up their anti-trans talking points and he in turn contributes columns to their publications.

From Brynn Tannehill on Huffington Post: Johns Hopkins Professor Endangers Lives of Transgender Youth:

Somewhere out there, a parent will follow his advice. Or a court, or child protective services. We already know it happens when they do. We know the results from anecdotes and years of research, and it looks like Leelah Alcorn.

This isn’t just about academic freedom. It’s about the reputation of the institution. It’s about the moral obligation to do no harm.

And if all of those things are meaningless to Johns Hopkins administration, it’s also about liability. Someday, someone who followed McHugh’s advice, with your implied blessing, is going to show up on your doorstep with a lawyer and a dead child.

From Wikipedia: Death of Leelah Alcorn:

Leelah’s Law

A Facebook group called “Justice for Leelah Alcorn” was established,[56] while a petition calling for “Leelah’s Law”, a ban on conversion therapy in the United States, was created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute to raise awareness of the psychologically harmful effects of such practices; by January 24 it had 330,009 signatures,[47][57][58][59] and was named the fastest growing petition of 2014.[60] A second appeal demanding the enactment of “Leelah’s Law” was posted to the We the People section of on January 3, 2015 which garnered more than 100,000 signatures as of January 30.[61] In response to the petition President Barack Obama called for the banning of conversion therapy for minors.[62] Under the Twitter hashtag #RealLiveTransAdult, many transgender people posted encouraging tweets for their younger counterparts,[63] while other hashtags, such as #ProtectTransKids, and the term “Rest in Power”, also circulated on Twitter.[9][64][65][66] A petition was set up calling for Leelah’s chosen name to be included on her gravestone,[29] which gained over 80,000 signatures.[39] On January 6, Adam Hoover of Marriage Equality Ohio remarked that, since the request of having Alcorn’s chosen name on her gravestone seemed “like a slim possibility”, they would be raising money for a permanent memorial arranged as a bench, tree and commemorative plaque.[39] In April 2015, President Obama responded to the petition seeking to ban conversion therapy inspired by Alcorn’s death with a pledge to advocate for such a ban.[67]

In December 2015, Cincinnati became the second U.S. city after Washington D.C. to ban the practice of conversion therapy outright; council member Chris Seelbach cited Alcorn’s suicide as an influence in the decision, stating that “She challenged us to make her death matter, and we’re doing just that.”[68]

From #BornPerfect: Facts About Conversion Therapy:

All of the nation’s leading professional medical and mental health associations have rejected conversion therapy as unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous. These groups have cautioned that the practices do not work and have warned patients that they may be harmful. For example, the American Psychological Association “advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.

To end conversion therapy, look at #BornPerfect: Laws and Legislation By State.  If your state doesn’t have a bill that’s been introduced yet, work with state representatives and senators to get a bill authored.  Also consider working directly with your city council.  Like the movement to legalize gay marriage, the end conversion therapy may need to start locally and as a grassroots effort.

Rabbit Hole is a regular feature that starts with one article and follows the links within that article to the next, and so on.  Look for more Rabbit Hole posts in the future.


Case Study: Arkansas

“…we have a long way to go for actual equality and justice, not only in the law, but in the eyes of the people. For now, we’ll start with the law.”

I’m looking at transgender rights and where we are in each state with the fight to get rights for transgender people. It’s a struggle that is just starting to garner support from the public in some places– and a very hot issue right now.  Even in states where there are ample protections in place for sexual orientation, there are still no protections for gender orientation.

In my research I’m looking at three areas:  does the state have protections against discrimination by gender orientation? Does the state have protections for hate crimes against transgender people? And, what does it require to get a birth certificate name changed.  But I keep bumping into a more interesting story.

Take Arkansas. Please. (Rimshot.)

Arkansas is a perfect example as to where the controversial issue is right now for most of the country in early 2016.  Now, sexual activity between people of the same gender has been legal for — gosh! — about 11 years now, although there are still no legal protections against discrimination of gay people, let alone any protections for hate crimes.  So you know that transgender rights and protections aren’t going to be an easy sell.  I mean, it’s the South, right?

But along comes the Fayetteville City Council with their highfalutin espresso drinks and liberal ways.  In 2014, they passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.  That’s less than two years ago.  Lest you think that Fayetteville is stockpiled with extra radical sex positive people, though, the voters of Fayetteville defeated the ordinance that December by 51%.  That’s a mighty close margin.

Now on high alert, the state Senate met and passed the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act in February of 2015.  That’s a little over a year ago. Why it’s called an “Improvement Act” and what it has to do with “Intrastate Commerce” is a mystery we’ll leave to brighter political minds than mind.  This is an act that prohibits “any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state from adopting or enforcing an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law”.

It makes an exception for employees of a local government.  So basically it’s saying, go ahead Fayetteville City Council.  Do your thing and make your statements. But they’ll never be law. This Act passed both the state Senate (24-8, 2 abstentions) and the state House of Representatives (58-21, with 21 either abstaining or just voting present).

It’s worth noting that it passed without the signature of Governor Asa Hutchinson who seems okay despite being an old privileged white guy.  He made his name early in his career by prosecuting a white supremacist organization and more recently came out in favor of medical marijuana use.

While the Improvement Act was being hotly debated on the state Senate floor, the Eureka Springs City Council had their own ideas in mind.  The very same day the Act passed the state Senate and went to the state’s House of Representatives the Eureka Springs City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In April 2015, the board in Little Rock voted in protections for transgender people.  In June 2015 that pesky Fayetteville City Council passed a new ordinance with protections for transgender people.

It’s looking good, right?

Not so much. On September 1, the Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a statement that the Fayetteville ordinance was in violation of state law and unenforceable. Not to be squelched, the Fayetteville city council sent the ordinance to the voters, and this time it was upheld by 52% of the voters.

Arkansas is a microcosm of the kind of battle most states are having with transgender protections. People in those states just don’t want to give up their right to discriminate against deviants and use a bathroom in which presumably all the other people share the same plumbing that they do.

California, by contrast, has had anti-discrimination protections for gender orientation since 2004.

So there’s hope, but we have a long way to go for actual equality and justice, not only in the law, but in the eyes of the people.  For now, we’ll start with the law.

This piece is Part One of a series on Transgender Rights.  If you want to help along the causes of social justice, please contact your state senators and representatives, and your federal senators and representatives, and let them know this issue matters to you.  

— Virginia Lore is a cisgender woman who volunteers with The Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle, WA.