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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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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim



A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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Veterans Affairs to provide gender-confirmation surgery reversing 2013 ban

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and expand access to care for transgender veterans



The new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs )

ORLANDO – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced his Department is moving to provide gender-confirmation surgery through its health care coverage reversing a 2013 ban on those surgical procedures.

Speaking at a Pride Month event at the Orlando VA Healthcare System Saturday, McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

The process to roll-back the restrictions may take upwards of two years. The federal rulemaking process, expected to begin this summer, will include a period for public comment, spokesman Terrence Hayes told The Washington Post on Saturday.

“This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time,” McDonough said in his remarks. “and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it,” he added.

On February 8, 2013, the VA issued a directive that stated that the VA Healthcare System does not provide sex reassignment surgery. This directive sought to clarify a previous VA directive issued June 9, 2011, “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” which established the provision of hormone therapy, gender-related mental health counseling, and other transition-related services through the VA, as well as a mandate that the VA health system provides care “without discrimination and in a manner … consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.”

“This directive, however, does not include coverage of surgical procedures although the VA does provide transgender veterans with pre- and postoperative care.”

The outcome was that the directive(s) effectively prevented transgender veterans from a surgery considered medically necessary by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

38 CFR § 17.38 Medical benefits package, is the specific federal code that makes provisions for veterans healthcare, which Section (b) clearly defines as; “Care referred to in the “medical benefits package” will be provided to individuals only if it is determined by appropriate health care professionals that the care is needed to promote, preserve, or restore the health of the individual and is in accord with generally accepted standards of medical practice.”

However, 38 CFR § 17.38 does limit care for transgender veteran’s stating: “(c) In addition to the care specifically excluded from the “medical benefits package” under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section, the “medical benefits package” does not include the following: […] ‘(4) Gender alterations.'”

McDonough noted that changes “will require changing VA’s regulations and establishing policy that will ensure the equitable treatment and safety” of all transgender veterans.

“There are several steps to take, which will take time. But we are moving ahead, methodically, because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”

In a study related to the 2011 and 2013 directives, the VA noted that research showed that the transgender population in general experiences severe physical and mental health disparities, compared to the cisgender population, including high rates of HIV, suicidality, depression, anxiety, and mental health-related hospitalization.

Studies have found that these disparities are even more glaring among transgender veterans. In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

U. S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-CA, who is openly gay, issued a statement applauding McDonough’s actions.

“Veterans in need of gender confirmation surgery should not have to seek healthcare outside of the VA health system or navigate complicated processes to get the care they need,” Takano said. “VA must be inclusive of all veterans who have served, regardless of their identity.”

The Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester, D-MT also approved of the expansion of health care offerings for trans veterans.

“Every service member and veteran deserves equal access to quality care from VA, and this includes our LGBTQ+ veterans,” Tester said in a statement. “We must reaffirm our commitment to making VA a more welcoming place for everyone who fought to protect our freedoms.”

Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that her agency was “thrilled to have allies at the highest level of government” and noted the contrast with recent moves by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to limit transgender youth participation in school sports.

“In a moment of fierce state and local backlash against the transgender community, this move by the Biden Administration is a reminder that elections matter,” Duncan said. “Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving healthcare they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)
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Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man



A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

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