John Kasich Dodges Question on 'Conversion Therapy'

Kasich said he had not heard of the case of Ohio teen Leelah Alcorn.

April 11, 2016, 7:12 PM

TROY, N.Y. -- Republican hopeful John Kasich answered a question about "conversion therapy" at a campaign event in Troy, New York, today by instead switching the topic to gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws, irritating his questioner, who said she didn’t ask about “gay marriage and wedding cakes.”

Kasich also said this afternoon that he had not heard of the case of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who attracted national attention when she killed herself in 2014 in Ohio, where Kasich took office as governor in 2011.

Alcorn, a 17-year-old who was subjected to "conversion therapy," wrote a suicide note about her difficulties growing up transgender; her case prompted the White House to call for an end to the use of the technique, which aims to try to change a person's gender identity or sexual orientation, on minors.

"I’m sure you heard, in December 2014, Leelah Alcorn committed suicide in your home state of Ohio,” Alana Klein, a 34-year-old retail worker from Albany, New York, told Kasich during a town-hall style meeting.

“Whoa, who did?” Kasich replied.

"Leelah Alcorn,” Klein responded. "From your home state of Ohio.”

She went on to ask about “conversion therapy,” which some states have banned, and attracted applause when she asked what he would "do to protect our LGBT persons."

"First of all, I’m not familiar with that case,” Kasich said, before pivoting to his position on gay marriage and failing to directly address the question about "conversion therapy." Kasich explained, as he has before, that he thought it was time to move on now that the Supreme Court had guaranteed the right to a same-sex marriage, and that recent laws and legislative efforts in North Carolina, Indiana and other states represented an incorrect approach to dealing with discrimination.

As he often does when asked about LGBT issues, Kasich provided the example of a cupcake maker, who he says should not deny service to anyone, but added that a photographer should not be forced to work at a gay wedding. "The idea that we’re just gonna sue one another for all these things -- that caused this problem,” Kasich said, adding that he was "not in favor of discrimination, period, end of story."

As she left Kasich’s event early, Klein told ABC News she was unhappy that the governor “completely ignored” her question -- particularly since she said she had respected his position on gay marriage.

“He went straight to the wedding cake, wedding flowers,” Klein said.

In responding to her question, Kasich said it was important "to respect the position of those in the gay community, and secondly, to try to figure out what you do about religious liberty,” a term conservatives often use to refer to the rights of those who are religiously opposed to providing services to gay couples or for same-sex weddings.

"But I have to tell you,” Kasich said, "when you get in the middle of that, there’s no easy answer.”