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The news reached Michael Ferguson via text: President Barack Obama had called for the end of conversion therapies aimed at altering the sexual orientation or gender identities of gay and transgender youths.

"It didn't sound plausible," said Ferguson, a University of Utah student and one of four gay men and two parents who sued a New Jersey conversion-therapy center in 2012. But it was true.

Late Wednesday, on a White House website, the administration denounced the psychiatric practice of conversion therapy and said there is "overwhelming scientific evidence" that the approach is neither medically nor ethically sound and instead can cause harm. The American Psychiatric Association and many other medical and mental health organizations long have opposed conversion therapy.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth," the statement from White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett states. "As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, the administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

The statement follows an online petition posted in response to the death of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17-year-old from Ohio who committed suicide in December and left a note saying she had been forced into reparative therapy by her parents.

"It caught me by surprise," Ferguson said of Obama's move. "There are already so many focal points for the president's attention that I guess I'm kind of amazed that this issue resonated on some level enough so that he would take some action."

Such a pronouncement, he said, could have an important impact on LGBT youths who may be wrestling with their sexuality.

"If I were at that decision point and there was this groundswell of awareness, understanding and support from the general public and from the president of the United States," he said, "... it would have made a difference for me."

Ferguson's struggle led him first to seek counseling services at Mormon church-owned Brigham Young University and LDS Family Services.

At age 26, he contacted JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, and spent eight months in treatment at the New Jersey center he now is suing.

Ferguson said his decision to seek reparative therapy was self-prescribed, not driven by pleas from his parents, although a bishop from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had directed him to the therapy as a possible solution.

"I was not out to my family," he said. "When I was doing reparative therapy, part of the reason was to avoid coming out of the closet."

Any warning that the treatment could be more damaging emotionally than helpful, Ferguson said, fell on deaf ears.

"At the time," he added, "I would rationalize away evidence that was contrary to what I was seeking."

Now, Ferguson is out, poised to complete his doctorate in bioengineering in May and married to Seth Anderson. In fact, they became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in Utah.

LDS leaders teach that same-sex attraction isn't a sin, but acting on it is. The church does not officially endorse conversion therapy, although in the past it had ties to organizations, including the now-defunct Evergreen, that included the practice as a counseling or treatment option.

Historically, Utah has been a place where conversion therapy — now often called sexual-orientation-change efforts — has been widely promoted, said Jim Struve, a clinical social worker and a member of the LGBTQ-Affirmative Therapist Guild of Utah.

"A lot of parents or people caught up with religious communities have sent kids to Evergreen or other groups with the belief or hope they can change," Struve said. "When that change doesn't happen, for a lot of kids there is incredible disappointment and distress."

Struve believes many were caught off guard by the White House statement and said it may soften the messages from LDS leaders during this past weekend's General Conference, which celebrated the "traditional" family and labeled other relationships as "counterfeit."

"To have somebody else give a message that exposes the harmful nature of [conversion therapy] and that is caring is incredibly powerful," he said. "It might get people to do more checking into what conversion therapy is really doing."

Ferguson's New Jersey lawsuit is set for trial in June. It contends JONAH violated New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act when it described homosexuality as a mental disorder that could be cured through its program. The plaintiffs also argue that as part of JONAH'S programming, therapists forced them to engage in demeaning behaviors, including stripping naked and beating images of their mothers.

The White House statement does not call for federal legislation to ban reparative therapy, but does note that California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., have passed laws barring licensed professionals from using conversion therapy on minors. Some 18 states are considering similar legislation, the White House states.

"I hope state legislatures take this on," Ferguson said. "And I really do hope that individuals start coming forward and telling their stories and seek legal accountability."