Author archives: Peter Sprigg

Will Women’s Restrooms Be Ruled Obsolete?

by Peter Sprigg

February 13, 2019

In a significant ruling last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Fifth Circuit ruled against a male-to-female transgender person, Nicole C. Wittmer, who had sued the Phillips 66 Company for employment discrimination. Wittmer contended that Phillips 66 had withdrawn a job offer after learning that Wittmer identifies as transgender. (Hat tip to Ed Whelan for his excellent two-part post on the case at National Review, here and here.)

Federal law does not prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of “gender identity.” After years of failing to persuade Congress to add “gender identity” (or “sexual orientation”) as a protected category in federal civil rights laws, LGBT activists have adopted a new legal strategy. They now contend that discrimination based on gender identity is already illegal because it is a form of discrimination based on “sex,” which was prohibited along with racial discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specific lawsuits rest not only on such abstract legal theories, but also on specific facts. In this case, both the District Court and the Fifth Circuit decided for Phillips 66, the defendant. The evidence showed that the plaintiff Wittmer had been fired by his previous employer, a fact which Wittmer did not disclose to Phillips 66. It was the discovery of that deception that led the company to withdraw a job offer—not transgender discrimination.

Therefore, it was actually not necessary for the court to decide whether sex discrimination encompasses “gender identity.” However, on this threshold question, the District Court had said yes. Judge James C. Ho wrote a separate concurrence to explain why Title VII does not cover either gender identity (at issue in this case) or sexual orientation. At 14 pages, his concurrence is actually twice as long as the majority opinion (which Ho also wrote).

I highly recommend this concurrence. Judge Ho does a good job of explaining two different theories of interpretation of sex discrimination. Under the “favoritism” theory, an act is only “sex discrimination” if it favors one sex over the other. Under the “blindness theory” (relied on by the plaintiff), an act is “sex discrimination” if it takes sex into account in any way at all (in this case, because women may wear dresses to work but men may not, for example).

Judge Ho points out very bluntly that under the “blindness theory,” it would not be permissible to have “separate bathrooms and changing rooms for men and women.” And an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, permitted to participate as a “friend of the court,” conceded this point at oral argument (see p. 16 of the opinion).

This is significant. Up to now in the bathroom debates, transgender activists have conceded the legitimacy of separate men’s and women’s facilities, but have argued that people should be allowed to use the one that corresponds to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. But now we have a concession that a logical implication of the argument they are using for counting “gender identity” discrimination as a form of “sex discrimination” is that we could not have separate facilities at all.

Courts should not be rewriting laws just because LGBT activists have not persuaded Congress to do so. But if they adopt the approach transgender activists want, they may not only usurp the powers of Congress—they may abolish separate men’s and women’s locker rooms, showers, and restrooms altogether.

So much for the “right to privacy.”

What Does Tuesday’s Supreme Court Decision Mean for Trump’s Military Transgender Policy?

by Peter Sprigg , Travis Weber

January 23, 2019

On Tuesday, in Trump v. Karnoski and Trump v. Stockman, the Supreme Court announced it was staying the district court injunctions issued against President Trump’s military transgender troop policy until the cases sorted themselves out in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the cases arose out of Washington state and California, respectively).

But where does that leave the other cases in which this policy has been challenged?

In Doe v. Trump, the D.C. Circuit already lifted an injunction against the policy arising from a challenge in D.C., and this remains unaffected by the Supreme Court’s recent action.

That leaves one other case, Stone v. Trump, arising out of Maryland, and currently in the Fourth Circuit.

The preliminary injunction against the Trump policy in that case (granted 11/21/17) was based on specific language in the Presidential Memorandum to Mattis of August 25, 2017. But that memorandum was explicitly revoked when President Trump accepted the Mattis Report and Recommendations on March 23, 2018. Although both sides have filed revised briefs in response to the 3/23/18 policy, it does not appear that the judge has ruled in response to those (for example, to amend the preliminary injunction). Despite the Stone injunction (which is likely to eventually be dissolved), the Department of Defense appears to be viewing the Court’s decision yesterday as a signal to slowly but confidently move toward the implementation of Trump’s military transgender policy.

While the Supreme Court’s action yesterday stayed several injunctions, it didn’t wipe them out. The Court will still need to rule on the injunction and the merits at some point, which will dispose of any lingering issues. As the Solicitor General’s brief in Karnoski says in footnote 8, “If this Court were to vacate the injunctions in these cases in whole or in part, that decision would be binding precedent requiring the district court to similarly vacate the injunction in Stone.”

Is Chai Feldblum Reconsidering Religious Freedom?

by Peter Sprigg

December 21, 2018

I found it interesting that Chai Feldblum saw fit to respond to Everett Piper’s op-ed on the “Fairness for All” proposal, and to deny that her position is “that LGBT rights must always prevail, no matter what.” Her summary statement does sound more generous to religious liberty than other things she’s been quoted as saying in the past:

I believe there are some situations in which the rights of religious liberty for organizations who believe homosexuality is sinful will conflict with and should prevail over the rights of LGBT people who might experience discrimination at the hands of such religious organizations.

But what are some examples of those “situations?” And how does she define “religious organizations?” She never says.

I don’t doubt that Feldblum, in her concern for “religious pluralism,” would probably say pastors should not be forced to perform same-sex weddings, and churches should not be forced to hire pastors who identify as homosexual. But do “religious organizations” include anything other than churches, synagogues, and mosques? It would be nice to know.

Throughout her op-ed, she mentions only “religious organizations.” She does not talk about protecting the rights of profit-making organizations (e.g., Masterpiece Cakeshop), nor about the rights of religious individuals (e.g., Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran). My guess is that her concern for the “rights of religious liberty” simply does not extend to them.

I carefully analyzed her position in our paper opposing her renomination to the EEOC a year ago. Here is an excerpt:

Feldblum was best known to conservatives, however, for her blunt statements discounting the idea that the free exercise of religion should ever be allowed to trump “rights” asserted by those who identify as homosexual.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty held a conference in December 2005 regarding potential conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty. Feldblum participated, and Maggie Gallagher drew attention to Feldblum’s views in a 2006 Weekly Standard article.

Sexual liberty should win in most cases,” Feldblum declared. “There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win …” In fact, she declared, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”

Feldblum understands what this means for religious believers. In a related article [2006], she declared that “we are in a zero-sum game: a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side,” adding later, “And, in making the decision in this zero-sum game, I am convinced society should come down on the side of protecting the liberty of LGBT people.” Indeed, she openly endorses government coercion of the believer: “To the extent that forced compliance with an equality mandate burdened an individual’s belief liberty, my argument … is that such a burden is likely to be justified.”

Feldblum admitted that the heavy-handed approach she favors goes well beyond Supreme Court precedent, noting that:

[T]he Supreme Court, for the moment, has come down clearly on the side that the liberty protected by the substantive Due Process Clause is solely a negative liberty. … But in many circumstances, the only way to achieve real liberty for some individuals will be for the government to take affirmative steps to bring about that liberty—even if such steps might then interfere with the liberty of others.”

Feldblum deserves some credit for describing more accurately than most the moral concerns that social conservatives have regarding homosexual conduct, and for at least acknowledging the reality of the conflict between “gay rights” and religious liberty. And she has been gracious to participate in events like the Becket conference, and even in a 2008 panel discussion held at Family Research Council.

However, this should not be allowed to mask the extremism of her positions. After she wrote that the courts should essentially ignore the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment (recognizing only a more nebulous “belief liberty” instead), she admitted that “my suggestions are radical.”

And more recently, since she has been on the EEOC, she has also expressed skepticism of religious exemptions:

Feldblum has continued to state her view that religious liberty exemptions should be extremely narrow. For example, at an “LGBT Summit” sponsored by The Atlantic magazine in December 2015, she participated in a panel discussion with David Boaz of the Cato Institute, who identifies both as gay and 5 as a libertarian (and who supported the redefinition of marriage). The issue of private businesses impacted by non-discrimination laws, such as those in the wedding industry, was discussed, as Reason magazine reported:

Boaz stated: “I think we have millions of small businesses, and I would like to leave the heavy hand of government out of their relationships with their customers and their employees as much as possible.”

… Feldblum, however, dismissed the idea that religious beliefs could ever justify discrimination. “When someone has not been educated [about tolerance of LGBT individuals] and wants to keep discriminating,” she said, “there is only one federal government, there is only one state government, one local government that can say: We will not tolerate this in our society.”

Feldblum then referred to an EEOC case against a funeral home charged with “gender identity” discrimination:

With a religious exemption to non-discrimination laws, the funeral home owner “could say, ‘well, actually, we’re religiously based,’” said Feldblum, raising her arms high and rolling her eyes. “It’s a funeral home! We do not want to allow that and the only thing that can protect us is a law that doesn’t have [a religious] exemption.”

LGBT activists like Feldblum are unlikely to accept any vision of religious liberty that extends beyond the four walls of a church’s sanctuary. But the “free exercise” of religion extends not just to churches but to individuals, and in every sphere of endeavor, including the public square and marketplace.

Compassion Is Needed for Parents and Professors Dealing with “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” Too

by Peter Sprigg

December 20, 2018

The magazine Psychology Today is hardly a hotbed of social conservatism. Nor is its contributor Samuel Veissière, Ph.D. campaigning against transgender ideology or identities. But merely by treating some parents’ concern about their transgender-identified children with respect, he has managed to produce one of the more remarkable short pieces on the transgender issue that I have seen in some time.

Veissière, a professor at Canada’s prestigious McGill University, is “an interdisciplinary anthropologist and cognitive scientist.” On November 28, he posted a piece on the Psychology Today website reporting on an academic article about certain youth (especially girls) who identify as transgender, published by Dr. Lisa Littman of Brown University.

Veissière summarized Littman’s conclusions:

Littman raises cautions about encouraging young people’s desire to transition in all instances.  From the cases reviewed in her study, she concluded that what she terms “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) appears to be a novel condition that emerges from cohort and contagion effects and novel social pressures… .

(Neither Veissière, nor critics of Littman’s reliance on parental reports, cited what I consider some of the study’s most shocking revelations. Littman explains that “online advice … instructs individuals how to deceive parents, doctors, and therapists to obtain hormones quickly.” Apparently advice of the same nature exists for anorexics, who are given “‘anorexic tricks’ … for deceiving parents and doctors so that individuals may continue their weight-loss activities.” There is even a scientific term for this—it’s called “deviancy training,” which is “the process whereby attitudes and behaviors associated with problem behaviors are promoted with positive reinforcement by peers.”)

Veissière added these observations from his own discipline:

The notion reported by parents that the ROGD appears to be “scripted” is also telling. Medical anthropologists describe the process of outsourcing negative feelings to cultural narratives and systems of beliefs as “idioms of distress.” … When extreme forms of distress and coping arise through novel social pressures and spread through implicit imitation, strange epidemics of “mass psychogenic illnesses” have been documented.

The latter remark reminded me of a brilliant turn of phrase by writer Rachel Lu in a 2016 piece in The Federalist. Although she applied it to the larger LGBT movement in general, it may be particularly appropriate to the transgender movement, and especially to “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.”

Lu wrote:

It will be remembered not as a Selma moment, but as a Salem moment: a period of collective insanity.

That is, it will not be remembered as a triumph of civil rights, like the 1965 march on Selma, Alabama. Instead, it is more like the collective mass hysteria—implausible accusations of “witchcraft” against ordinary citizens—that led to the Salem witch trials in 17th-century Massachusetts.

A day later, Veissière was back with another blog post, noting, “Some readers pointed out that I did not mention the controversy and significant public backlash that ensued after the study was first published in August 2018.”

Universities routinely publicize the academic work published by their faculty members, and Brown University did so with Littman’s article on August 22. The school was immediately attacked by transgender activists, who did not like the implications of Littman’s article—and on August 27, Brown removed the item describing her research from their website (the article itself remained, and still remains, available from the journal PLOS ONE).

This craven capitulation to political correctness led to a backlash of its own, with commentators ranging from my colleague Cathy Ruse to a former Dean of Harvard Medical School criticizing Brown for jeopardizing academic freedom.

Brown denied this charge, but Veissière did not seem convinced:

As it stands, the dominant and politically correct view of transgender identity being broadcast on university campuses — a view which, in a general sense, is linked to a culture of absolute validation and accommodations of people’s feelings and preferences — leaves very little room, if any, for alternative perspectives to be presented and discussed. 

All that is merely background for a third, more reflective piece that Veissière posted on December 2.

In it, Veissière points out, as clearly and concisely as I’ve seen done anywhere, the logical contradiction at the heart of today’s gender ideology:

As a very wise person put it to me, it is difficult to understand what views of gender are being called for in this new culture. On the one hand, gender is fluid, neutral, and doesn’t matter, or it isn’t a thing at all outside of false beliefs and oppressive constructs. On the other hand, gender matters so much that people will conceal, remove, or reshape their body parts to be recognized as one gender or the other. [Emphasis in the original.]

Veissière makes a comment on “impulses” that could be considered a critique of the entire LGBT movement. He points out, “Impulses, which make us act on visceral needs, are always sincere. But they are rarely wise.”

He illustrates the point with an example from his own youth: “In my adolescence, I committed vandalism in schools in the name of a noble fight against racism and colonial history.” However, he now admits, he knew little about either history or racism. “What I needed then was limits.  Finding the right limits is as hard a project as finding the right impulses … [emphasis in the original].”

In the reaction to his original posts, Veissière was challenged by individuals who identify as transgender—and as victimized and powerless:

A “healthy debate” exists for you, but not for me. For you, this is your field of study. For me and people like me, you are one of many, many people we have to justify ourselves to.

While admitting an obligation to feel empathy for the trials of those who identify as transgender, Veissière skillfully turns the point back on them:

The most difficult act of compassion for those who feel comforted in the feeling that they are powerless is to gain a perspective on the vulnerability of those they perceive to be in positions of ‘power.’ … If you are young, powerless and angry, imagine if you will what it is like to be a manager, doctor, or professor in the age of social media, when … it takes a single dissatisfaction and a single email, tweet or Facebook post — a single act of anger — to annihilate your career, social, family, and financial life in a day.

This is the nightmare scenario into which Lisa Littman of Brown found herself immersed.

Veissière points out that the entire culture is being indoctrinated with a view of “gender” that is designed to make life easier for the tiny minority that are gender non-conforming—even though the vast majority of people (over 99 percent) still identify their “gender” with their biological sex at birth. He alludes obliquely to the harm this may cause to the majority, noting that this “odd reversal of the … Tyranny of the Minority”—instilling “the historical[ly] novel, highly confusing notion that gender is made up”—has results that are “terribly confusing for most, and increasingly destabilizing for the many.”

We at Family Research Council disagree with the fundamental assertion of the transgender movement that a person’s psychological “gender identity” should ever be given precedence over the person’s biological sex in determining someone’s public identity as male or female. Veissière does not take that position. He affirms the (estimated) millions who identify as transgender by saying, “Denying such a large group the right to be gendered on their terms would indubitably be unjust,” and he adds generally that support for gender non-conforming teens “is a good, progressive move to help a very small group of people live healthy lives [emphasis in the original].”

But when it comes to the parents of such teens (the subjects of Littman’s study), Veissière cites “an old adage:”

Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.

Veissière notes that efforts to “prepare the road” instead are likely to fail—thus hurting children in the long run:

With this wise proposition, comes the recognition that encouraging youth to act on all their fears and desires does not prepare them well for the challenges of a world that will always come with unpredictability, and the competing needs of people with different fears and desires. The more we give each child the road they want, the more we set them up for failure and conflict with other children, who in turn want to be given a different road.

Although anything but “absolute validation and accommodations of people’s feelings and preferences” has suddenly become heresy, Veissière is courageous enough to endorse parental rights by declaring that regardless of “the road [children] want,”

[T]he responsibility is on their caregivers — not the children — to help them figure out, slowly and wisely, whether this is the best choice for them.

I might add, it is the duty of public officials to make sure parents remain free to fulfill that sacred responsibility.

Fairness for Whom?

by Peter Sprigg

December 14, 2018

One major concern about “SOGI” laws—laws which add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in non-discrimination laws governing employment, housing, and/or public accommodations—has been that they would pose a threat to religious liberty.

One response to this conflict between “LGBT rights” and religious liberty has been to propose a sort of grand compromise, in which SOGI protections and specific religious liberty protections are enacted in the same bill.

Only one state, Utah, has so far implemented this approach, enacting what became known as the “Utah Compromise” in 2015. Proposals to do something similar at the federal level have been discussed under the label of “Fairness for All.”

Family Research Council has argued that such an approach is unsustainable, for reasons explained in a 2016 paper.

However, World Magazine has now reported that the boards of two major evangelical organizations—the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—have both passed motions endorsing the “Fairness for All” concept.

According to World, the NAE board unanimously—but quietly—adopted a motion in October that “calls on Congress to consider federal legislation consistent with three principles:” 

• We believe that God created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations [should] be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.

• We support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious exercise.

• No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The first bullet point is a clear-cut statement of biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage. The second bullet point is a straightforward endorsement of long-standing American principles.

The third bullet point is the problem. What, exactly, is the definition of “unjust discrimination” in this context? Is it “unjust discrimination” for a Christian baker to decline to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding in violation of his own conscience? Or for that matter, is it “harassment” for a schoolteacher to refuse to use pronouns that falsify the sex of a student who identifies as transgender?

These are questions that need to be put to the LGBT activists with whom this “compromise” is being sought. The ball is in their court, not ours. Unfortunately for those seeking compromise with them, LGBT activists are likely to answer those questions with an emphatic “Yes.” Alas, there is virtually no chance that they would endorse the kind of much-needed legislation that would protect the freedoms of that baker or teacher.

Times Op-Ed Admits Key Justifications for Gender Transition are False

by Peter Sprigg

November 28, 2018

As recently as ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that The New York Times, the “grey lady,” the so-called “paper of record,” would run an article with the headline and sub-head, “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy; And it shouldn’t have to.” But that’s what happened on November 25.

Andrea Long Chu was “born a boy” (don’t ban me, Twitter—this is what Chu said). Chu’s op-ed began, “Next Thursday, I will get a vagina.” In other words, this biological male will undergo gender reassignment surgery.

In a 1,200-word piece, Chu vigorously defends that choice. But by bluntly telling the truth about the prospects for patients after such surgery, Chu effectively debunks most of the mythology that underlies the transgender movement’s policy demands. There is nothing so dangerous to the sexual revolution as one of its advocates who admits the truth.

Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, author of the most definitive conservative book on the transgender movement (When Harry Became Sally), has written a lengthy and detailed response to Chu’s piece in Public Discourse. (Chu had attacked Anderson by name.) But here is a condensed summary of Chu’s remarkable concessions.

Myth: Gender reassignment surgery can make a man into a woman.

In the third sentence, Chu admits that this surgery will not magically make him a woman: “Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound.” Chu also essentially admits it will not make him look like a woman, saying, “When she [“my girlfriend”] tells me I’m beautiful, I resent it. I’ve been outside. I know what beautiful looks like.”

Myth: Gender transition makes transgender people feel better.

Chu: “I feel demonstrably worse since I started on hormones.”

Myth: Gender transition alleviates “gender dysphoria.”

Chu: “Like many of my trans friends, I’ve watched my dysphoria balloon since I began transition.”

Myth: Allowing cross-gender hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery is necessary to prevent transgender people from committing suicide.

Chu: “I was not suicidal before hormones. Now I often am.”

Chu also has a beef with the medical profession—practically all of it. Some doctors, like esteemed psychiatrist Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University, argue that gender transition treatments should not be offered because they fail to ease the suffering of transgender people. Others, who wish to affirm the latest ideologies, like those in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), argue these treatments should be available because they do ease suffering. Chu accuses both camps of “compassion-mongering”—“peddling bigotry in the guise of sympathetic concern.”

Chu directly and explicitly attacks a core principle of medical ethics, known as “nonmaleficence”—the idea that doctors should “first, do no harm.” In its place, Chu substitutes the philosophy that I believe is at the core of the entire LGBT movement—one of radical personal autonomy.

To Chu, the potential for harm from a gender transition is irrelevant: “I still want this, all of it. I want the tears; I want the pain. Transition doesn’t have to make me happy for me to want it.” Chu believes that “surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want.”

Ironically, the world that Chu envisions—where desire is all that matters—is very close to the world we already live in. If Chu wants gender reassignment surgery, can find a doctor willing and able to perform it, and is willing to pay for it, he can obtain it. Although I believe that there are serious ethical concerns about such procedures, virtually no one is trying to erect any legal barriers to people obtaining them voluntarily at their own expense. (This is in notable contrast to how the Left approaches the issue of sexual orientation change efforts, and now seeks to prevent even adults with unwanted same-sex attractions from obtaining such care.)

The public policy concerns regarding transgenderism virtually all center around the efforts of the Left to force people to do things they do not want to do—affirm, celebrate, and subsidize (as payers of taxes or insurance premiums) such procedures. We can only hope that Chu’s admission that these procedures are elective and cosmetic—not “medically necessary,” as is usually claimed—will relieve the pressure for such a denial of the personal autonomy of those of us who choose not to publicly affirm the transgender movement.

Truth Obscured by Hollywood Take on Sexual Orientation Therapy

by Peter Sprigg

November 13, 2018

LGBT activists are pushing for an end to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)—the various forms of voluntary religious or secular counseling or therapy (referred to by critics and the media as “conversion therapy”) intended to help people with unwanted same-sex attractions to overcome those feelings or not act upon them. That campaign suffered a setback in August 2018 when an extreme version of a SOCE therapy ban, AB 2943, was withdrawn by its sponsor after strong resistance, especially from the religious community.

However, critics of SOCE are now hoping for a boost from the release of a new movie, Boy Erased, intended to dramatize the problems they associate with “conversion therapy.” The movie, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the parents of the college student sent to counseling, premiered in limited release on November 1, and is gradually being rolled out around the country.

The movie is based on a 2016 memoir with the same title by Garrard Conley. Conley was a 19-year-old Arkansas college student in 2004, when he attended one-on-one counseling and then an intensive two-week group program offered by Love in Action (LIA), a Memphis ex-gay ministry run by John Smid, a man who had testified to his own transformation from gay to ex-gay.

In anticipation of the movie’s release, I recently read the book on which it is based. On November 8, the first day the film was screened in the D.C. area, I went to see it. The first screening in downtown Washington was sold out, but I was able to catch a later screening in a nearly empty theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. What follows will address both the book and the movie, but I will focus primarily on the book.

Conley and Love in Action

I will say one thing in the book’s favor—it does not appear to be a complete fabrication. That is more than I can say for some testimony given in favor of state therapy bans—accounts which have either been proven false or are highly suspect. Love in Action was a real organization, and the approach Conley describes in the book is roughly consistent with group therapy used by some (not all) such ministries. According to Conley, his personal memories were augmented by LIA’s 274-page handbook—which he still has.

This means that in Conley’s account, there is no electric shock therapy; no application of heat or ice to create an aversion to homosexual stimuli; no deliberate exposure to heterosexual or homosexual pornography; in short, none of the horror stories one usually hears about outdated treatments that were abandoned 40 or 50 years ago. Although often raised in critiques of SOCE, no one has been able to prove that any of these methods have been used in this century.

Another common charge is that minors are coerced into therapy by their parents. Therefore, it’s important to note that Conley was not a minor when he went to LIA, and he states explicitly, “I was here by my own choice.” Despite its short term of two weeks, Conley’s program was not even a residential one—he spent evenings in a motel room with his mother. This was no “conversion therapy camp” as they are sometimes depicted.

What the book, and at least the first part of the movie, feature instead is lots of talking and lots of writing. This makes the book and first half of the movie, frankly, rather boring.

Smid (depicted in the film as “Victor Sykes”) and LIA approached homosexuality using an addiction model, and many of their techniques were borrowed directly from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Different programs and different therapists use different methodologies—what unites SOCE is only the goal, not any particular technique. While AA and other twelve-step programs have their critics, as far as I know no one has ever tried to outlaw them.

For example, one exercise drawn directly from AA was the “Moral Inventory”—an effort to account in writing for as many past sins as the participant could recall. Another exercise was drawing a “genogram”—essentially a family tree noting patterns of sinful behavior by various forebears and relatives. These techniques may be questioned by some—but hardly constitute “torture,” or even stirring drama.

The Real Trauma

That’s not to say there are no traumatic events in Boy Erased—it’s just that most of them predate or are unrelated to the LIA program. In the book, Conley admits that in early puberty, he was so addicted to video games he would urinate on his bedroom carpet, rather than walk to the bathroom. (Later, in college, he would urinate in empty water bottles in his dorm, putting them under his bed to be discovered later.) In high school, he would “crouch on the toilet seat to hide from overcrowded lunch tables.” Conley, a runner, admits that in the summer before he started college, “my weight loss took an angry, masochistic turn that verged on anorexic”—something even a gay-friendly family doctor would call him on. Conley also admits several times to having suicidal thoughts. Note that almost all of these things happened before he went to LIA—and all were omitted from the movie.

If Conley had chosen to re-frame his story, it could have put an important male twist on the #MeToo movement. The worst thing that happened to Conley, and to the lead character in the film (renamed “Jared”), was that he was raped by a fellow male college student in a dorm room. (The under-a-blanket rape scene, as well as some strong language, are the main reasons for the film’s R rating.) The rapist then confessed to having done the same thing to a younger teen in the youth group at his church.

Conley told a pastor at his Presbyterian college about the latter crime—and was told “to stay quiet” because “there was nothing to be done.” However, he told no one—not the pastor, his parents, nor Love in Action counselors—about the assault he had suffered. He remained silent on this point even after the rapist was the one who “outed” him as “gay” to his parents. One is left to wonder whether his counseling might have had a different outcome if he had been more honest with the people who wanted to help him.

Family Dynamics

Family dynamics play an important role in Boy Erased—but this is one of several areas in which Conley appears to have misunderstood the theory behind some SOCE. It is true that many counselors have identified a pattern which is common (but not universal) among men with same-sex attractions, in which these men had strained relations with their fathers and male peers and unusually close relationships with their mothers.

This is the exact pattern evident in Conley’s description of his own life. With his father, a Christian car dealer who experienced a mid-life call to pastoral ministry, Conley had “moments of misunderstanding” that were “often damaging.” Sports is a common way for a boy to bond with his father or peers, but Conley admits, “It’s true that I was never any good at sports… I never liked to toss the ball with my father in the front yard.” (The film, however, makes “Jared” a high school basketball player.) With his mother, a glamorous Southern belle who married “in her sixteenth year,” he would go “to Memphis for weekends of shopping and movie binging.” In fact, when client Conley tells a counselor, “Yes, my mother and I were too close,” author Conley calls it his “first ex-gay utterance.”

The climax of both the book and the movie—and the incident that led to Conley walking out of LIA before the program was over—was an exercise called “the Lie Chair” (the name is puzzling, since it involves telling the truth). Conley was instructed to sit across from an empty chair “and imagine your father sitting across from you and you saying everything you’ve always wanted to tell him but couldn’t.” Conley says, “I tried working myself up into an angry fit,” but finally declared, “I’m not angry”—and walked out, never to return.

Conley seems convinced that the family dynamics theory did not apply to him, because his parents were not actually abusive—just once, “my father had raised his fist to strike me,” but thought better of it—and because he loves them. He does not seem to understand that there can be a deficit in meeting the developmental need for warm, non-sexual affection from the same-sex parent, even in the absence of any overt abuse.

Distorted Theology

Conley also seems to have a distorted view of Christian theology. For one thing, he (like many LGBT activists) seems obsessed with “Hell”—far more than any Christians I know, or any pastors I’ve ever heard preach. Even after having his horizons broadened by going to college, Conley declares, “I still believed that I would feel its fire licking my skin for all eternity if I continued on this path.” As an evangelical Christian myself, I also believe in hell (capitalizing the word, as Conley does, is unnecessary). Yet I’ve never believed—and know no one who teaches—that merely being (or becoming) straight is the key to avoiding it.

Critics of SOCE, including Conley, are also obsessed with “shame,” and a belief that such counseling operates by instilling a sense of shame over the client’s homosexuality. Yet every sexual reorientation therapist I have met has said the exact opposite—that one of the primary goals of such therapy is to overcome the shame that clients already feel when they begin therapy.

In fact, despite Conley repeatedly associating LIA and its teachings with terms like “self-loathing” and even “self-annihilation,” the actual quotations from LIA’s handbook and other materials express the opposite:

  • I believed many lies that I was worthless, hopeless, and had no future.”
  • I’ve learned that I am loved and accepted even though I have been involved in sexual addiction.”
  • I have worth. I am intelligent, funny, caring and strong.”

Film Fabrications

Because “moral inventories” and “genograms” don’t exactly make for compelling cinema, the filmmakers spiced up the last half of the film—by adding scenes that didn’t actually happen. The most dramatic—and most outrageous for its absurdity—is one in which an uncooperative LIA client is literally, physically beaten with a Bible (by family members including, apparently, his own little sister). Perhaps this is meant to be a metaphor for spiritual abuse, but some gullible viewers are likely to take it literally.

The character Jared’s “escape” from LIA is exaggerated in the film. Apart from having to ask a second time before his cell phone was returned, the book recounts no effort to physically prevent him from leaving or his mother from reaching him, the way the movie does. And the film’s biggest emotional gut punch is when we learn that the fictional victim of the fictional “Bible-beating” has committed suicide. (In his book, Conley reports no such event, but writes, “Various bloggers” have estimated that “twenty to thirty” suicides resulted from LIA, “though figures like these are impossible to pin down.” That’s probably because they are made up.)

One thing the film does somewhat better than the book is address the character Jared’s nuanced relationship with his parents after he left Love in Action. However, we have no way of knowing if the portrayal is a truthful one reflecting Conley’s actual experience, or merely a dramatic one serving Hollywood’s purposes. In the book, Conley addresses the decade after his LIA experience only cryptically, and somewhat confusingly. His father never followed through, apparently, on a threat to withdraw funding for his college education. Yet describing visits to his parents’ home, he declares, “I will refuse to even look at my father.” He concludes the Acknowledgments, though, by saying, “Thank you, most of all, to my mother and father, whose love has made all the difference.”

Love in Action—The Rest of the Story

In 2005, a year after Conley left Love in Action, the ministry was subjected to a storm of controversy after a teenager named Zach Stark complained on social media that his parents had sent him to LIA’s residential program for adolescents, called “Refuge.” (The Boy Erased film conflates this program with the adult-focused one, “The Source,” that Conley attended—a staffer in the film says, “Welcome to Refuge,” but the notebooks say “Source” on the cover.) This sparked a round of protests by LGBT activists, and investigations by Tennessee state officials.

State officials said LIA required a license because they were providing mental health treatment; LIA insisted it offered discipleship programs, which are exempt from state regulation. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF, now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a federal lawsuit to protect LIA, and ultimately prevailed, with the state dropping its efforts to regulate the LIA ministry.

The controversy about the short-lived Refuge program seems to be the source of the mythology that there is a network of “conversion therapy camps” across the country holding teens against their will. The trailer on the film’s official website ends with the dramatic and absurd declaration, “77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy across America.” Yet the Refuge program—then already defunct—was the only such program identified in a 2009 American Psychological Association report on sexual orientation change efforts. Indeed, a 2015 Ph.D. dissertation agreed that “it is likely the media frenzy surrounding the story of 16-year-old Stark being forced into a conversion therapy residential program by his parents in 2005 led to these bans” on such therapy for minors.

The controversy took a toll on Smid, however, and on the ministry. In 2008, Smid resigned; he has since returned to living as a homosexual and married a man in 2014. Smid now has a gay-affirming ministry called Grace Rivers, and has apologized for the work he did with Love in Action. (LIA, under new leadership and with a completely new ministry model, changed its name to “Restoration Path” in 2012.)

Conclusion

The therapy bans enacted in fourteen states so far apply only to licensed mental health providers and only to clients who are minors. Since Garrard Conley was not a minor and Love in Action was not licensed by the state, his experience would not have been affected by such a law, even if one had been in place in Tennessee. Ironically, the passage of such laws, cutting off access to care consistent with their values from licensed providers, might only have the effect of driving desperate parents and clients into the hands of unlicensed religious programs such as Love in Action. For SOCE skeptics who see this as undesirable, therefore, such laws may actually be counter-productive.

California’s AB 2943, on the other hand, would have applied to any SOCE provider or program that charges a fee, even religious and unlicensed ones. This type of approach, however, raises constitutional questions even beyond those raised by the license restrictions.

Regardless of what one thinks of Conley’s story, its fictionalized film version, John Smid’s story, or the techniques of Love in Action, they all represent only anecdotes about a particular instance of sexual orientation change efforts. They cannot be taken as representative of all SOCE. The claim that SOCE in general has been shown to be ineffective and harmful is not supported by the scientific research.

Boy Erased is not particularly entertaining; and not at all informative for making policy regarding sexual orientation change efforts.

The Times En-“genders” Controversy with Ignorance of “Sex”

by Peter Sprigg

November 5, 2018

When I was a college student in the New York metropolitan area, I subscribed to the New York Times. For a while, I even set the goal of reading every article that appeared on the front page, no matter what it was about. I thought if it was important enough to be on the front page of the New York Times, it was important enough for me to read it. It was known, after all, as “the paper of record.”

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On October 22, the Times published—on the front page—one of the worst-written, worst-edited newspaper articles I have ever read.

The article begins, “The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth . . .”

The fake news begins with the eighth word of the article—“gender.” It is simply untrue that the Trump administration is re-examining the definition of “gender.”

What is actually under consideration is the definition of the word “sex”—particularly where it appears in a law or policy that forbids discrimination on the basis of “sex.”

This is evident in the parts of the article that quote or directly cite a draft memo leaked to the Times from the Department of Health and Human Services, such as these (emphasis added):

  • Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo . . .
  • The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
  • For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity . . .

Despite this evidence from their own reporting, the Times reporters continued throughout the article to use the word “gender” instead. For example (emphasis added):

  • The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender . . .
  • The agencies would consider the comments before issuing final rules with the force of law — both of which could include the new gender definition.
  • The department would have to decide what documentation schools would be required to collect to determine or codify gender.

What’s wrong with this? Well, the very people who were stirred to outrage against the Trump administration by the Times article—transgender activists and their allies—are the ones who have been telling us for years that gender is not the same as sex! Yet the New York Times breezily assumes that the two words are synonymous. This mistake would not be tolerated in the average undergraduate term paper—yet somehow it slipped by the editors of the New York Times.

Unless it didn’t slip by at all.

In reality, there is little dispute that the word “sex” refers to biology. The American Psychiatric Association, for example—hardly a bastion of conservatism—defines “sex” as “Biological indication of male and female (understood in the context of reproductive capacity) …” Nor is there any dispute (even among conservatives) that the phrase “gender identity” commonly refers to a subjective, psychological state of, as the APA puts it, “an individual’s identification as male, female or, occasionally, some category other than male or female.”

The word “gender” standing alone, however, is ambiguous and contested ground. It has come to be used as a reference to someone’s essential “maleness” or “femaleness.” The cultural and social debate is about whether that is determined by a person’s objective “sex” (biology) or their subjective “gender identity” (psychology).

However, this debate is largely irrelevant in interpreting and applying current federal law—which is what the Times article was ostensibly about. Few federal laws or regulations even use the word “gender.” The key ones mentioned in the article—non-discrimination provisions in statutes regarding education (Title IX, 1972), employment (Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), and health care (the Obamacare law)—all use the word “sex,” not “gender.”

If the Times’ unjustified conflation of the words “sex” and “gender” did not arise from incomprehensible ignorance, it can only have arisen from inexcusable bias. Acting as though the clear-cut term “sex” is the same as the ambiguous term “gender” seriously tilts the playing field in favor of the Left’s preference for psychological rather than biological definitions. It assumes the very point that is in dispute.

This is bad logic—as well as bad journalism.

Allied for Truth and Freedom Regarding Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions

by Peter Sprigg

October 15, 2018

Some of the most compassionate and courageous—and least politically correct—people in the country are mental health providers who assist clients with unwanted same-sex attractions. I had the privilege of spending time with some of them on October 5 and 6 in Orlando, at the annual conference of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (“The Alliance,” formerly known as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or “NARTH”).

Although LGBT activists have been critical of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for decades, the threat to such therapy has become an existential one only in the last six years, as several states have enacted laws prohibiting licensed mental health providers from engaging in SOCE (often referred to by critics and the media with an outdated term, “conversion therapy”) with minors. However, this year’s Alliance conference came in the wake of an unexpected win, when an even more extreme therapy ban proposal in California was withdrawn by its sponsor, Assemblyman Evan Low, on August 31 (the last day of the legislative session).

The conference featured a variety of presentations and workshops touching on medical, clinical, and cultural issues, as well as research. Attorney Geoff Heath gave an overview of the therapy bans—including several different arguments as to why they should be found unconstitutional. He touched on ways in which they infringe freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, in addition to noting the more technical legal principle that they may be “void for vagueness.”

It is ironic that attacks upon such therapies have grown ever more extreme, even as the therapists themselves are becoming ever more scrupulous about following “best practices” that avoid the kind of behaviors (such as “coercion” of clients or “guarantees” of complete transformation) of which they are regularly accused. Christopher Rosik, Ph.D., introduced an updated set of Guidelines for the Practice of Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy (or “SAFE-T,” an acronym coined by the Alliance to better describe the actual focus of such therapy). This carefully reasoned and thoroughly documented 62-page document (not yet available on the Alliance website, at last check—an older version is here) features 13 specific guidelines to ensure that client goals are respected, fully informed consent is obtained, and any potential harm is avoided.

Several sessions addressed research questions. Philip Sutton, Ph.D., gave an introductory presentation with the explanatory title, “Are Same-Sex Attractions and Behaviors (SSA) REALLY Innate, Inconsequential, and Immutable? What Research and Demonstrable Clinical Experience Does and Does Not Show.” Key research findings he explained show that:

  • SSA is not innate.
  • SSA is consequential (that is, it does have many significant negative consequences and co-occurring difficulties—undermining claims that it is a “normal, positive variant of human sexuality”).
  • SSA is mutable (that is, it can change).
  • Some intended and beneficial changes in SSA (often along a continuum) occur through professional and pastoral assistance.
  • Therapeutically assisted change is not invariably harmful.

One of the conference keynote speakers, the Rev. D. Paul Sullins, Ph.D., discussed several research questions. He described existing research showing that the genetic influence on the development of homosexuality is relatively small, while showing that the influence of being a victim of child sexual abuse on developing a later same-sex orientation is significant—both of which undermine the theory that people are “born gay.” He discussed follow-up research he has done (but not yet published) concerning children in same-sex or opposite-sex parent households. He also discussed findings regarding the crisis involving sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. (Dr. Sullins is a Catholic priest himself, albeit an unusual one—he is married, having been a married Episcopal priest before converting to Roman Catholicism.)

Carolyn Pela, Ph.D., provided useful training on how to evaluate published research studies. She noted the existence of several different types of studies—exploratory, observational, quasi-experimental, and experimental. Exploratory studies are just that—they simply explore a topic, often through anecdotal accounts, but are incapable of arriving at conclusions that can be generalized to a larger population. Ironically, an often-cited 2002 article on the potential harms of change therapies by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder was, by its own account, merely an exploratory study, and thus offered no conclusions about the actual prevalence or likelihood of such harm.

Observational studies can demonstrate correlations between variables (“A is often accompanied by B”), but cannot definitively prove causation (“A causes B”). However, correlational studies can still be highly important—the conclusion that smoking is associated with lung cancer was based on correlational studies, for example. Only an experimental design can scientifically prove a causal relationship, but that requires the existence of a control group and random assignment to the study group or control group (this is how studies of new drugs are conducted, for instance). But for some research questions, a truly experimental design is either not practical or not ethical—studies of parenting outcomes, for example, would require that children be randomly assigned at birth to parents! Pela also reviewed questionable research practices that can be found in the areas of recruiting, research procedures, and reporting of results.

One of the clinical presentations was offered by Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., Ph.D. His father, one of the founders of the Alliance, died suddenly in 2017. Dr. Nicolosi, Jr. is carrying on his father’s work, but re-branding it—quite literally, in that he has trademarked the term “reintegrative therapy” to describe his approach (and to distinguish it from the ill-defined term “conversion therapy”). His father had coined the term “reparative therapy” in the 1990’s, but this was often (mistakenly) taken as implying a view that homosexuals were broken and needed to be “repaired.” Nicolosi, Jr. introduced an approach he calls the “reintegrative protocol,” which he insisted is not premised on any particular view of sexual orientation and can be used by therapists of any ideological persuasion. Its goal, he said, is not to change sexual orientation, but to heal trauma and sexual addiction—but a change in same-sex attractions may sometimes result when the protocol is followed. 

Two films were also screened at the conference. One, Voices of the Silenced, is an international effort produced by British expert Michael Davidson. It features personal testimonies from clients as well as from experts about the potential for sexual orientation change, while also placing the issue in a larger cultural and historical context, noting how the sexual revolution represents an effort to undo the advances made by Judeo-Christian culture and return to the pagan worldview of ancient Greece and Rome. The other, Free to Love (a 38-minute documentary that can be viewed free online), presents an overview of the debate over SOCE in the American context, and includes interviews with four ex-gay men as well as the views of attendees at a Gay Pride event.

Although geared largely for therapists, the Alliance conference is an important event every year for public education and networking as well. With the freedom to seek change ever more under attack, the Alliance is a vital ally in promoting the truth and protecting clients’ rights to self-determination.

Five Myths About “Gender Identity”

by Peter Sprigg

September 19, 2018

Adapted from remarks by Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, Family Research Council

to World Congress of Families – Chisinau, Moldova

(Panel Discussion on “Gender Ideology—The Latest Attack on the Family and the Legal Challenges It Poses”)

Friday, September 14, 2018

 

Good afternoon.

I want to share with you today five myths about “gender identity.”

These are five things that are believed and taught by transgender activists, which simply are not true.

1. If the mind is in conflict with the body, the mind is right.

This is the most fundamental belief of the transgender movement. If a person is biologically male, but that person feels or believes that he is a woman, then he is female. And if a biological female believes she is male, then she is male.

But why should anyone believe that?

Contrary to the claims of the transgender activists, this belief is not “scientific.” In fact, since science deals with an examination of the physical world, the rejection of the physical body is anti-scientific.

The belief that the mind is right and the body wrong when they conflict is a philosophical—almost a religious—viewpoint. It has nothing to do with science.

It is bad enough when adults are deceived in this way—but it is tragic when it happens to children. Certainly, some children, even from a very young age, engage in behaviors that do not conform to the typical expectations for their sex.

However, myth number two is:

2. Gender non-conforming children will always grow up to be transgender adults.

Actually, there is much evidence that the vast majority of such children, if left to themselves, eventually accept their biological sex. According to the American Psychiatric Association, anywhere from 70 to 97.8 percent of gender non-conforming boys, and 50 to 88 percent of gender non-conforming girls, will not become transgender. However, if they are encouraged by adults to make a social transition, and they receive hormones that prevent normal puberty from occurring, they may be locked in to a path that leads to great suffering.

3. Gender transition (hormones and surgery) is “medically necessary.”

This is the claim that transgender activists make in order to justify forcing government health programs and private health insurance companies to pay for these expensive procedures.

This claim has everything to do with money, and nothing to do with medicine.

The vast majority of people who identify as transgender are physically normal, physically healthy people. Hormones and surgery do not help their bodies work better—instead, they destroy healthy body systems and healthy body parts.

The claim is that hormones and surgery are “necessary” to improve the mental health of transgender people, not their physical health. Has evidence proven this? No.

In 2016, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversees two of the largest federal health care programs, refused to order routine coverage for gender reassignment surgery. They said:

  • [T]here is not enough high quality evidence to determine whether gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes.”
  • Overall, the quality and strength of evidence were low.”
  • The four best studies “did not demonstrate clinically significant changes” for the better.

One of the best studies, out of Sweden, showed the following about patients after they had gender reassignment surgery. Compared to the general Swedish population, they were:

  • 2.8 times as likely to have died of any causes;
  • 2.8 times as likely to have a psychiatric hospitalization;
  • 4.9 times as likely to attempt suicide;
  • 19.1 times as likely to die by suicide.

This sounds medically dangerous—not “medically necessary.”

4. “Gender identity” discrimination is a form of “sex discrimination.”

In the United States, the majority of states have not added “gender identity” as a protected category in laws against discrimination, nor has the U.S. Congress.

Therefore, transgender activists have begun urging courts to interpret laws against “sex discrimination” to include “gender identity.” Since our federal law against sex discrimination in employment and in education were passed in 1964 and in 1972, it is unlikely that legislators intended “sex” to mean anything other than being biologically male or female.

A 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision included a passing comment that “gender stereotyping”—for example, telling a woman she is not feminine enough—could be a form of “sex discrimination.” But even that case does not stand for the proposition that a man can become a woman, or a woman can become a man.

5. The transgender movement is a progressive movement.

This may be the most surprising for me to list as a “myth.”

Although we speak about the “LGBT movement,” there are many “LG”—self-identified lesbians and gays—who are concerned about the “T” (those who identify as transgender). They are not happy that masculine girls and feminine boys—who at one time might have grown up to identify as lesbians or as gay men—are now being told that they are actually the opposite sex.

Meanwhile, some feminists point out that transgender activists often are not trying to overcome gender stereotypes. Instead, they are trying to conform to rigid stereotypes—but of the opposite sex.

It would seem more “progressive” to simply say that there are different ways to be a boy or a man, and different ways to be a girl or a woman—and none of them require changing your gender or mutilating your body.

Thank you.

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