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‘Parental rights’ is back as a ‘conversion therapy’ talking point

Christian right links parents’ right to fix child victim of sex abuse



Commissioner and FRC head Tony Perkins (Photo by Christopher Kane)

Five influential anti-LGBT Christian Right leaders presided over a symposium on the primacy of parental rights as core to religious liberty at the Museum of the Bible on July 26. The presentation was a satellite panel discussion in conjunction with the three-day International Religious Freedom Roundtable, a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference administered by the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. Among the dignitaries delivering remarks to the largely invitation-only main conference were Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. 

“Parental Rights: A Matter of Religious Freedom?” was co-sponsored by the anti-LGBT James Dobson Family Institute (JDFI) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International and featured Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nominated to serve as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom at the State Department.

For about 90 minutes, the panel discussed “issues surrounding the fundamental human right of parents to provide care, custody, and control of their children,” including regarding “questions of religious and philosophical convictions.” The central question: “To what extent and at what point should a State intervene or even override parents’ decisions or objections?”

“God-given parental rights” has long been a wellspring from which the Christian Right draws strength as a “natural law” that transcends the man-made laws of the state. In California, the anti-LGBT Christian lobbying group Capitol Resource Institute has often used parental rights to argue against sex education and LGBT history in schools, as well the rights of transgender students to have access to school facilities equal to other students.

Parental rights has also been used as the excuse for sending children to quack religious therapists and Christian camps for LGBT troubled teens to be “repaired,” believing sexual orientation and gender identity are behavioral choices to be rectified.

California was the first to ban the practice of “reparative therapy” that had traditionally fallen under the purview of a family’s religious beliefs. Then-State Sen. Ted Lieu, however, took testimony from medical and scientific experts who discredited “conversion therapy” for minors, calling it “psychological child abuse.” When Gov. Jerry Brown signed Lieu’s bill, SB 1172, on Sept. 29, 2012, he said: “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

On July 24, Delaware Gov. John Carney joined California and 12 other states that have passed similar bans.

But the Christian Right is fighting back, focused now on an extension of that ban for adults and minors. California Assembly Bill 2941 by out Assemblymember Evan Low considers selling or advertising such “counseling” by state-licensed therapists as “fraudulent business practices.”

The well-funded ADF submitted a legal memorandum opposing AB 2941 in March with ADF Executive Director Michael Farris bragging at the symposium about ADF’s role in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and scores of other victories.

Panel moderator and JDFI Public Policy Director Jenna Ellis and JDFI Executive Director Dr. Tim Clinton elaborately railed against the California bill as a threat to their religious beliefs and fundamental rights as parents.

“That’s been a huge issue in the United States right now,” Ellis said, “and it’s gotten national attention. This is a very dangerous bill and essentially, any book, any counseling, anything that discusses same sex attraction and is against that or trying to counsel away from that would be under the consumer fraud protection element of California’s law. Basically, they’re saying that’s fraudulent, that belief, that understanding, and that counsel. That’s what’s at stake.”

Ellis continued: “The people who are not interested in protecting religious freedom, who are not interested in protecting parental rights, they are very shrewd to not just openly say, ‘We don’t want you to advocate against same sex attraction. We don’t want to advocate against these worldviews and moral issues that strike at the heart of traditional values and the family,’ but they’re willing so far as to say that this is fraud. That’s what’s going on in the United States and then even globally.”

Clinton, a practicing psychologist, also referenced the canard that homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse during childhood and framed “conversion therapy” as a vital course of psychological treatment for victims.

“They want to take away any effort that a parent has to place that [confused] child in any type of ‘counseling’ or ‘psychotherapy’ to deal with what they’re going through,” Clinton said. “They’re saying that you should not be able to do that….[Y]ou only can provide affirming therapy. If someone is struggling and has unwanted same-sex attraction issues or more—that you cannot pursue any kind of psychotherapeutic intervention.”

Clinton then links child abuse with same-sex attraction. “Think just for a moment about Penn State University, a place where I grew up, close to,” Clinton says. “Think Jerry Sandusky and think of all these young boys that he molested. Now, if you know anything about childhood sexual abuse for a moment, that when a child is abused, they can participate in this process and often get confused by it. There’s an affirmation, there’s sexual arousal, there’s so much more that takes place in this, just for a moment.”

The parent, Clinton argues, has the right to put the boy into “reparative therapy” to help him overcoming those desires, resulting from sexual abuse, that could result in him thinking he is gay.

“This is abuse. This is a violation of the law,” Clinton says. “This is your son for a moment in this situation. When he comes back and if he is confused by what took place in that very process—should you or shouldn’t you have the right to help him try to work his way through that particular journey in his life? That’s the kind of stuff that we’re dealing with” in fighting the California bill.

Controlling a child’s intake of information is also critical, thus the emphasis on homeschooling.

“When you look at the issues in schools, private schools’ and public schools’ content,” Michael Donnelly, Senior Counsel and director of global outreach at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), asked rhetorically, “must content be religiously neutral? Must it be secular? Is secular neutral? I would say it’s not. Theories of origins, creation versus evolution, marriage and life issues, requiring children to be educated in particular ideas regarding sexuality, gender ideology…Parental notification, in terms of communication, parental notification of important issues. Parental consent over certain issues.”

The panelists also underscored the international nature of their mission. HSLDA’s Donnelly and ADF’s Farris (former head of HSLDA) traveled to Moscow in 2014 for the eighth World Congress of Families (WCF), an international Christian anti-LGBT umbrella organization. WCF is now headed by National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, who flew to Russia in June 2014 to support Duma member Elena Mizulina’s anti-gay propaganda law and proposed anti-gay adoption ban. The WCF conference had been officially cancelled after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but went on under the auspices of local sponsors.

At a WCF panel—and again on July 26— Donnelly spoke about parental rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and what he characterized as the dangers of government overreach—slamming European governments that took children away from their parents because the children were homeschooled instead of complying with mandatory government education laws. But Donnelly and company apparently have no problem with the Russian government separating children from their LGBT parents.   

ADF’s Farris was pressed about that on Facebook. “When you publicly condemn the California law that prohibits parents [from] seeking counseling for their children to dissuade them from choosing to identify as homosexual,” Farris wrote, “then I will consider amplifying my condemnation of the Russian proposal.”

After the symposium, the Los Angeles Blade asked Donnelly about his trip to Russia two months ago. Did he discuss LGBT subjects such as conversion therapy or policy concerning transgender issues during the trip? “I did not have discussions about anything like that with anyone, no,” Donnelly replied.

“I was wondering if this parental rights argument was created to kind of circumvent the findings from most mainstream American medical organizations that say that specifically ‘conversion therapy’ is ineffective and can be tantamount to abuse,” the LA Blade asked.

“I don’t think so. I think parental rights, as we’ve articulated here, are very deeply rooted in human rights law and practice, both in our country for centuries but also in international human rights documents and frameworks,” Donnelly said. “So it’s not been invented to cover anything. It’s acknowledged in these human rights documents as being a fact.”

“This was truly a Trump power-panel of evangelical policy hawks—even at a museum dedicated to the Bible,” Charles Francis, president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBT history organization, emailed to the Los Angeles Blade. “Rebranded as just another ‘parental rights’ issue like homeschooling, harmful ‘conversion therapy’ was promoted as a ‘liberty’ or a parent’s choice. No matter the new package, the powerful evangelical lawyers and advocates echoed decades of bad psychiatry and historic religious calumny that doomed generations of LGBT youth to damaged self-respect and second-class citizenship.”

“As an history society dedicated to ‘archive activism,’ we have been researching the bad science and harmful religious practices to change peoples’ sexual orientation—from electroshock and lobotomies to ‘pray away the gay,’” wrote Mattachine Society’s Pate Felts in an email. Felts and Shima Oliaee of New York-based production company Radiolab also attended the symposium doing research for an upcoming project. “We are committed to study this latest ‘parental rights’ rationale for harmful conversion therapy.”

The State Department declined to comment on Commissioner Tony Perkins’ participation in a symposium advocating “conversion therapy.”


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U.S. Federal Courts

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States”



Screenshot/YouTube SCOTUS TV via the Associated Press

WASHINGTON – In oaths administered by the Chief Justice John Roberts and outgoing Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 51 year-old Justice Jackson made history as the first-ever black woman sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. She replaces Justice Breyer, whose resignation from the Supreme Court becomes effective at noon Thursday (Eastern) after his nearly 28 years of service on the nation’s high court.

In the simple ceremony held at the Court, Jackson in the constitutional oath, given by Chief Justice Roberts, solemnly swore to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Breyer gave her the statutory oath, in which Jackson swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

The newly sworn-in Associate Justice was joined by her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and their two daughters, Talia and Leila.

The court will hold another formal inaugurating ceremony, called an investiture, in the fall, Roberts said. But Thursday’s ceremony allows her to immediately begin work as the newest member of the nine-seat Supreme Court.

Nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate, in April at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, addressing the audience of members of Congress, the Biden Cabinet, and White House staff along with family and invited guests, Justice Jackson noted;

“As I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way towards perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.” 

As the first Black woman to be nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court which she noted in her remarks:

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “We’ve made it, all of us, all of us. And our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible.“

Quoting Maya Angelou, an American author, poet and civil rights activist, “I am the hope and the dream of the slave,” Jackson said.

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Biden’s ability to enforce immigration laws

In its 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy



Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday upheld President Biden’s broad presidential powers to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and policies. In a 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, which barred most Central American migrants from entering the United States to seek asylum.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh rejected arguments by Republican-led states in the case known as Biden v. Texas that were seeking to force the administration to keep the policy enacted under former President Trump.

The Chief Justice writing for the majority held that the decision to end it did not violate a 1996 migrant detention law and that a second memo terminating the program should have been considered by lower federal courts. 

In his opinion, Roberts overturned the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that forced border officials to revive the Remain in Mexico rules, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols this past December. The Chief Justice noted that the 1996 law which authorizes the program does not mandate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to return migrants to Mexico, but allows them the option to do so. Roberts referenced use of the word “may” in the statute.

If Congress meant for the law to require asylum-seekers to be returned to Mexico, Roberts wrote, “it would not have conveyed that intention through an unspoken inference in conflict with the unambiguous, express term ‘may.'”

Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett filed separate dissenting opinions, parts of which were joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision today in Biden v. Texas:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program. For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping, and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.

“I urge the Biden administration to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all. Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system. We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

This is a developing story.

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Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest



Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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