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Christian Conversion therapy almost killed Garry

Can we agree to end this? Banning conversion therapy in the US and the UK has proven very difficult

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Queen Elizabeth II delivers speech opening Parliament May 11, 2021 calling for ban of conversion therapy. (Photo: UK government)

Why would a successful doctor struggle with suicide?

By James Finn | Garry is a young MD in with a reputation as a sharp, caring GP. He runs a successful practice, loves his husband, and enjoys the respect of family and community. But his fulfilling life almost didn’t happen. A few years ago, a stint in Christian-sponsored conversion therapy left him obsessed with suicide.

An intervention led by genuine mental health professionals brought him back from the brink, and now he’s gone public to push for legal bans of the type of Christian “therapy” that almost killed him.

The issue is huge now in the UK where Garry lives. He told interviewer Claire Byrne of RTÉ Radio 1 that he’s speaking up because it’s time for his native Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to stop dragging their feet and finally ban conversion therapy.

Banning conversion therapy in the US and the UK has proven very difficult

Both leading political parties in the UK have promised for years to ban conversion therapy. Neither has managed. In the US, a national ban is a political non-starter. In US states that have banned conversion therapy for minors, religious loopholes are so big experts acknowledge the bans are little more than symbolic.

Programs like the one Garry attended operate all over the US, often targeting minors, even in states that ban the practice for minors. France is also struggling with a resurgence of conversion therapy despite a national ban.

In the UK, stiff religious resistance has torpedoed proposed bans, though that may be changing this year as the governing Conservative Party has recently recommitted to passing legislation.

The question is, how effective will any law be in the face of religious opposition? If the US, France, and Germany are any example, hardly effective at all.

Battling ‘unwanted same-sex attraction’

Have you heard the phrase “unwanted same-sex attraction?” It’s a new buzzword in conservative Christian circles, from Evangelical to Roman Catholic, all over the world.

It pops up in places you’d never expect.

I wrote a story last week about how hundreds of Catholic priests and bishops in German and Dutch speaking countries are holding public church services this month to bless gay unions. They’re calling it the “Love Wins” campaign, promoting it as #liebegewinnt on social media.

Jan Korditschke, a Catholic priest in Berlin who will be blessing gay couples in his church, told the Associated Press why “Love Wins” is so important to him:

I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin. I want to celebrate the love of homosexuals with these blessings because the love of homosexuals is something good. The homophobia of my church makes me angry and I am ashamed of it.

The “Love Wins” message resonates powerfully

LGBTQ people in Germany are celebrating this week with much of the German population. Rainbow flags are waving on church grounds, and news sources are filled with positive stories about loving same-sex couples.

When I tweeted my story, I met with an (expected) mixture of skepticism and joy from English-speaking LGBTQ people. I never expected my tweet to attract advertisements for conversion therapy, but that’s what happened. Two Catholic priests in Bavaria responded to promote a Catholic Church network that offers to help people “struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Garry from Northern Ireland would recognize that language

He told RTÉ Radio 1 that program leaders promised him “there was good hope that I could turn to live a heterosexual life, and they said that, yes, I could live quite happily without same-sex attraction.”

I was surprised to see the tweets in response to my story, because while I know the Catholic Church in the US is increasingly embracing conversion therapy despite historically opposing it, I did not know the practice was on the rise in Germany. My surprise led me to more digging that revealed the increasing extent of the problem in France, where it is more an Evangelical than Catholic phenomenon.

But this isn’t conversion therapy!

Here’s the problem. Programs like the one Garry attended — and like many networks in the US, France, and Germany — claim they don’t actually offer conversion therapy. They carefully avoid explicit promises to end same-sex attraction while implying strongly that they can deliver that result.

When the Massachusetts Catholic Conference recently opposed a state ban on conversion therapy for minors, they illustrated the problem clearly with their objection:

If a minor is struggling with unwanted same sex attraction or gender identity, this law would prevent a licensed professional from counseling the minor towards a resolution to those unwanted urges. A counselor would hesitate to provide such therapy for fear of losing his or her license to practice. These professionals, with years of education and experience dealing with mental health issues, would be removed from the process of helping a young client struggling with these highly personal issues.

“A resolution to those unwanted urges” obviously implies changing sexual attraction. No reasonable observer could understand it any other way. That phrase happens to be the exact language groups like Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries employ as they partner with Catholic dioceses all over the US to offer conversion therapy they claim isn’t actually conversion therapy. It’s the exact language used by the Church conversion therapy network in Germany that advertised under my tweet.

Resolving unwanted same-sex attraction is conversion therapy

Many people have an inaccurate idea of what conversion therapy is. Decades ago, licensed psychiatrists and psychologists promised to turn gay people straight. They sometimes used harmful methods like shock and chemical aversion therapy. They relied heavily on talk therapy as well, but religion was seldom part of the mix.

Those medical practices all but died out by the 1980s in the US (and much of the rest of the world) without the need for laws. The mental health profession regulated itself, motivated by data that convinced them trying to change sexual attraction doesn’t work and causes serious mental health problems.

Psychologists and psychiatrists run afoul of their professional associations today if they offer conversion therapy, risking loss of board certifications and licenses.

Today, religious groups offer to “resolve unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Garry’s experience is typical of today’s conversion therapy. It’s almost always delivered by networks of unlicensed Christian counselors who combine religious practice like prayer with talk-therapy borrowed from the mental health world. Counselors promise they can “resolved unwanted same-sex attraction” by making it go away, by strengthening opposite-sex attraction, or by helping gay people feel content to live a life of celibacy.

As Garry attests, the results are as ineffective and toxic as when licensed professionals used to use them.

He says he became so depressed he had suicidal thoughts “almost on a daily basis” by the end of his unlicensed therapy. He started drinking heavily “every night just to get to sleep” and “to get rid of the thoughts” that were traumatizing him.

Conversion therapy keeps coming and going in waves

In the 1990s and early 2000s, a wave of “ex-gay” Christian conversion therapy swept through the Evangelical Christian world in the US, led by groups like Exodus International. These networks run by men who claimed they overcame their own same-sex attraction have collapsed as leaders admit their efforts proved both ineffective and toxic.

But even as that wave died out, new groups like Desert Stream are emerging to take their place. Garry’s traumatizing experience in Northern Ireland isn’t unusual, and that’s a big problem. Conservative religious organizations are heavily invested in the idea of homosexuality as pathological. They claim God doesn’t want people to be gay, and they believe strongly that they can help people “defeat sin” that is ruining their lives.

The trouble is, their programs are as ineffective and harmful as ever. However they try to finesse their language, they’re making promises they can’t deliver, harming people profoundly in ways mental health professionals call inevitable.

It’s possible that legislation will never be able to effectively deal with the problem. In the US and the UK, religious liberty principles make passing truly effective bans very difficult. It’s hearts and minds that have to change.

To those who believe unwanted same-sex attraction can be “resolved” —

Can we talk? When you tell LGBTQ people we’re suffering from an illness, when you offer to heal us, when you assert you can change how we experience sexual attraction, you’re causing tremendous harm.

What you’re offering isn’t new. Christians have been trying it for decades, and the numbers show nothing but trauma and mental health crises in result. Large networks of sincere believers have closed down after decades of operation because they saw the harm they were causing.

Christians all over the world have acknowledged they lack the ability to discern God’s will in a practice that has caused so much trauma and spiritual alienation.

Whatever your beliefs are about homosexuality, can you join that part of the Christian world that leaves God’s judgment to God and decisions about sexuality to personal conscience?

Garry was lucky. He lived to find joy and tell his story. The real tragedy here is all the people who didn’t. Can we agree to end this?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

This piece was originally published at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling.’ Republished by permission.

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U.S. Catholic bishops must recuse themselves from politics

An archbishop complains Speaker Pelosi is a source of “scandal” harming the Church. So, let’s talk about scandal & who’s really causing it

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Nancy Pelosi (L) by Gage Skidmore. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Salvatore Cordileone from YouTube screenshot (CC BY 3.0)

By James Finn | DETROIT – A powerful U.S. Catholic bishop is at it again, forcing himself into politics trying to make an elected leader knuckle under to Church “discipline.” Enough! It’s bad enough this guy is a notorious anti-LGBTQ bigot reviled by many San Francisco Catholics.

It’s bad enough he’s defying Pope Francis’s directive not to use Church sacraments as weapons. But when he tries to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to change how she represents her constituents, he’s gone more than just a bridge too far.

The archbishop complains Pelosi is a source of “scandal” harming the Church. So, let’s talk about scandal and who’s really causing it. But first, a rundown on the facts:

The Archbishop of San Francisco bars House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from communion because she opposes criminalizing abortion

Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, tweeted yesterday that U.S. House Speaker Pelosi “is not to be admitted to Holy Communion” because of her opposition to criminalizing abortion in the United States. In details reported by the New York Times, the archbishop ordered Pelosi in a letter not to present herself for communion and ordered archdiocese priests to deny her the sacrament should she request it.

Speaker Pelosi calls herself a “devout Catholic” and “regular communicant,” telling C-Span that if she were ever denied communion, “that would be a severe blow to me.” She acknowledges conservative forces in the Church would like throw her out over her insistence that the U.S. government must not mandate reproductive decisions for women, but she insists she’s not going anywhere.

Cordileone wants to talk about scandal, so let’s talk about scandal

“Scandal” has a special meaning in Catholicism. It’s a “sin,” a statement or act that “leads people to move away from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers us.” Scandal in its most straightforward Catholic sense might consist of a Catholic leader claiming Church teachings are wrong. In a more nuanced sense, scandal could be a truthful statement that lead people away from the Church.

If anyone is guilty of the sin of scandal here, the archbishop is. Nancy Pelosi IS a faithful Catholic. She hasn’t had an abortion. She doesn’t encourage women to have abortions. But as the elected representative of U.S. citizens from all over the San Francisco area, she says criminalizing abortion must be off the table. She has to represent all her constituents, not just the Catholic ones. She refuses to impose her religion on people who practice other religions or no religion.

Know what else Pelosi doesn’t support criminalizing?

  • Contraception
  • Oral sex
  • Masturbation
  • Divorce
  • Same-sex marriage

Cordileone teaches that all of those are grave moral evils, and he’s tried to enforce them for San Francisco Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Seriously.

In 2015, he forced staff at Bay Areas Catholic schools and charitable agencies to sign employment contracts agreeing to refrain from all the above (plus much more) and publicly affirm they are “grave moral evils,” or face dismissal.

Even if they aren’t Catholic.

Hundreds of prominent Bay Area Catholic leaders responded, sending a letter (read the full text here) begging Pope Francis to replace Cordileone with someone who would not cause scandal to the Church. Francis did not respond. Cordileone then mounted a massive witch hunt against LGBTQ Catholic employes — from teachers, to counselors, to social workers, to clerical staff. He disingenuously claimed custodial workers are “religious ministers” exempt from protection from California’s employment equality laws.

Many Catholic lay people resigned from Catholic agencies. Some said they would leave the Church for greener religious pastures where they were free to exercise their personal moral consciences. Many have questioned why Cordileone focuses so hard on rooting out gay/trans staff or staff who support gay/trans equality. He hasn’t mounted a witch hunt, after all, against Catholic staff who limit family size. He’s not grilled couples about their private bedroom practices. Divorced staff haven’t been fired. It’s curious, say San Francisco Catholics, that only LGBTQ people seem to be in Cordileone’s crosshairs.

Speaking of scandal, the archbishop continues scandalizing Bay Area Catholics by refusing to release a list of hundreds of archdiocese priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse, something the vast majority of U.S. bishops have already done. He’s even defying California law to keep the list from Catholic parents who insist they have a right to know.

Scandal? Well, pews are emptying out fast and the drop is sharper every year. Donations are down precipitously. I’d call that the result of scandal, wouldn’t you?

Catholic scandal aside, Cordileone threatens U.S. democracy and pluralism

Whether Nancy Pelosi remains a member in good standing of the Catholic Church is an important question for many Catholics, but a larger issue presents itself. Can U.S. Catholics meaningfully serve as government leaders if Church patriarchs try to dictate positions on issues that impact the nation as a whole?

This tweeted comment to Cordileone sums things up very well: “Speaker Pelosi follows her religion. You are punishing her because she does not believe in forcing her religion on others. As a public servant she took an oath to the Constitution, not the Church. You are not our government, but you are the reason people will leave your Church.”

If the archbishop wishes to teach women that abortion is a grave moral evil, then he should do that. He should write books, he should speak in public, he should persuade and convince. He should encourage or even require other priests in his archdiocese to do the same. He should focus on being a faith leader.

But when he steps into politics, when he tries to twist a politician’s arm with religious discipline, he crosses a red line. The United States does not and must not tolerate religious leaders forcing their beliefs on people who don’t share them. The Roman Catholic Church has a terrible track record of doing exactly that, and the American people must not stand for it.

Trying to stop a suicide hotline? Here’s why religious leaders need to stay in their lane.

A year ago, the National Catholic Reporter revealed that “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has hit a stomach-churning new low,” in lobbying to stop Congress’s bipartisan national suicide hotline. The bishops (a majority of all U.S. Catholic bishops) worked behind the scenes to torpedo the law because they opposed the hotline providing services specifically to LGBTQ people.

The bishops were apparently blinded by dogma, rejecting love and compassion in favor of a convoluted theology of refusing to label LGBTQ people as LGBTQ people.

I have no idea why the bishops believed the national suicide hotline was any of their business. It doesn’t impact the Church, and they have no possible interest in how it operates. But they made it their business like Cordileone is making civil abortion law his business.

Can you join me in asking him to back off?

Can you raise your voice demanding that he stay in his lane? That he stop trying to force Catholic beliefs and practices on people who don’t share them? That he stop trying to dictate to democratically elected leaders?

Better yet, can you join me asking Pope Francis, once again, to replace Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone? Faithful Catholics have been asking for years, and the time has come.

Here’s how to communicate your message to the pope:

Email the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre at [email protected] or phone his office at 202–333–7121.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Gay, Trans, Black, Woman: Voluntary segregation heats up across U.S.

Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again. White Christian nationalism promises more division

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Human rights banner licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | DETROIT – Know what delights me about trans and gay young people these days? They no longer presume they must uproot themselves from family and community to thrive and find love. They can be happy where they are…..

I wrote the above paragraph six years ago. I broke into online writing with a viral essay on another platform titled, “Have You Seen My Yellow Brick Road?” I described my journey from closeted teenager to happy middle-aged gay man, remembering fleeing my suburban Iowa home in search of “Oz,” a metaphor for love and acceptance, only to find that while I wasn’t looking, Oz had come to me.

“Please,” I wrote in conclusion, “if anyone finds a pair of ruby slippers, burn them!

Wow, have things changed since I wrote that

Somebody asked me a question on an LGBTQ Facebook group yesterday: “Where do you see the struggle for queer equality going in the next decade?” I hated what my answer had to be, because it means the borders of Oz are retreating.

“We’re going to have to focus” I wrote, “on building strong communities in cities and states where Democrats are in charge, and we’re going to have to reach out to our queer siblings in red states. We’re going to have to make space for them to join us, and we’re going to have to work to get life-saving/sustaining services to queer people, especially kids, stuck where they are.”

What I meant is, we’re going to end up segregated again.

Maybe that won’t mean a return to the densely populated gayborhoods we used to rely on — that had been emptying out as we perceived less need for them — but we’re already witnessing the beginnings of what could turn into a great migration. In my own circles of queer friends, people are already leaving southern/heartland/red states… or they’re talking about it seriously. Prism & Pen writer Logan Silkwood is selling his house and moving 1,719 miles in search of his and his wife’s personal Oz.

A queer exodus from red states has already started

Not a day goes by that I don’t see social media posts from queer people in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, or Idaho searching for jobs or housing in blue states, or announcing they’re moving. And why not? According to Brody Levesque in the LA Blade yesterday, “child abuse” investigations of parents of trans kids in Texas are back on again after a court had struck them down. What parent is going to live with that fear? The U.S. Air Force is even cooperating by allowing families with trans children to transfer early out of Texas with no strikes against their service records.

Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roar up and down highways every day with Confederate battle flags snapping in the wind.

LGBTQ people are leaving Florida even though Miami has a reputation as LGBTQ friendly. South Beach is actually on of our gayborhoods. Gay couples are speaking up about leaving or trying to leave because of a hostile state government with its Don’t Say Gay law, and with the probability things are going to get worse.

Yesterday, for example, The Washington Post featured a story about Nicolette Solomon, a young lesbian who just quit her job with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She says her marriage to her wife led to so much workplace suspicion and hostility that “it no longer felt possible to be lesbian and a teacher in Florida.”

And that’s in liberal Miami!

Will she move to a different state to seek the happiness and fulfillment she used to find in teaching? She doesn’t know yet.

Solomon is one of several queer teachers who have already resigned in Florida, citing the recently passed Don’t Say Gay law. Several of them are actively seeking jobs in blue states.

LGBTQ people are thinking twice about purple states too

Yesterday, The Advocate featured a story about an elite private school in “purple” Maryland that denied admission to 11-year-old Brayden Stratton. Megan Stratton and Jennifer Dane applied to the non-denominational Christian school because their son has friends there and because the school has an excellent academic reputation. They wanted him to have a head start in life, but the school turned him down because his moms are engaged to be married.

Would you stay in a community that rejected you? I think that’s an important question, because this family is the tip of a growing iceberg. Ever since same-sex marriage became legal, certain institutions, usually conservative Christian ones, have used it to reject LGBTQ people, and the problem is getting worse. I don’t know what Megan and Jennifer are planning, but I imagine they’ve at least thought about what it would be like to live where they aren’t strangers in a strange land — where their high-achieving kid would be welcome or even recruited to an elite school his friends attend.

Abortion will soon separate us too. It’s already begun.

Supreme Court watcher and legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern wrote an important article in Slate yesterday, detailing how the the fight for women’s reproductive freedom is moving to the state level. He says legislatures in blue states, after years of relative inaction, have snapped into focus passing laws to make abortion easier to access and pay for:

This is the irony of our current moment: The most immediate impact of the Supreme Court’s imminent assault on abortion rights has been … an expansion of abortion rights.

But he warns that comes at the cost of a greater national divide. Authorities in red states are already (as in Oklahoma) gearing up to outlaw abortion from as early as “the moment of conception” and seeking to impose punitive legal consequences on women who leave the state for an abortion.

Faced with that, will some women in Oklahoma and similar states decide to move? Certainly not every woman will have that economic freedom, just like not all LGBTQ people can afford to leave red states, but some undoubtedly will. I think the only real question is: How significant will the exodus be?

Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again

The same White Christian nationalism driving anti-LGBTQ persecution and the war on women’s reproductive freedom drives racism. “Replacement Theory” nonsense, regularly featured on Fox News and extremist corners of the Internet like 4chan, used to be fringe. But as Fabiola Cineas explored in Vox on Wednesday, “replacement theory” has gone mainstream in the Republican Party. White Christian nationalists are panicking over a dearth of “white babies,” and unapologetic racism is back in fashion.

Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roar up and down highways every day with Confederate battle flags snapping in the wind. We share a border with Canada. I can only get grits from Amazon. Nobody thinks those flags stand for Southern heritage.

We all know they mean racism. We know they mean Christian nationalist militias, Proud Boys and insurrection, increasing national division. Most of my neighbors excuse or defend that.

I haven’t seen a person of color in weeks. Black people don’t live up here in western Michigan villages. I’d have to drive more than an hour to Grand Rapids to find Black families and Black-owned businesses, and even then, only in certain neighborhoods.

That’s not unusual.

In New York last week, “Replacement Theory” led to mass murder — a young white man motivated by racist hatred entered a supermarket full of Black people and shot as many to death as he could.

That’s the kind of division I’m talking about.

The United States may have ended legally enforced segregation, but voluntary segregation never went away. That New York shooter? He left his predominantly white community to kill Black people in a majority Black neighborhood.

Voluntary segregation doesn’t mean freely chosen

When Black people, queer people, immigrants, and women end up divided from important parts of the nation, living apart from conservatives, Christian nationalists, or racists, it’s not because we want to or choose collectively to do so.

Individual human beings like Nicolette Solomon, Megan Stratton, and Logan Silkwood make rational, practical decisions. They don’t have the luxury to base life choices on strategy or activism. They have to do the best they can for themselves and their families.

Division and segregation stem from failure to protect human rights

If Congress had ever managed to pass the LGBTQ Equality Act, the Don’t Say Gay laws burning through red states would be unenforceable. Texas wouldn’t be permitted to hound parents of trans kids as “child abusers.” If the Supreme Court weren’t about to strike down Roe and thereby deny basic human rights to women, women wouldn’t be making hard choices about where to live. If the Supreme Court hadn’t eviscerated voter protection for Black people, political power would be more evenly distributed.

The Right in the United States is now largely the Christian Nationalist Right, up to the very highest levels of Republican leadership, even though they don’t and can’t have a majority of the American people on their side.

What that means in the short term is conflict, physical separation, and increasing political division.

It means all of us are going to need to figure out where our personal Oz is, and which road leads to it.

The United States of America are less united than they’ve been in a long time, and a lack of commitment to liberty and human rights explains a lot. Where do we go from here?

Can the Democratic Party take decisive control of Congress in November? Can the radically conservative Supreme Court be reformed and brought back into step with the majority of Americans? Can liberty and human rights enter the public stage as important values?

Yes, if we all work hard to make it happen! Yes, if we surge to the polls in November!

I’ll be working for that, you can bet your ruby slippers. But in the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes on Oz. What about you? Where is your Oz?

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Trump Judge: Christian public school teacher can out Trans kids

What do you do when you’re a trans teen & your teacher is the bully? Judge gives a religious-liberty nod to out students to parents

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By James Finn | DETROIT – In an apparent fit of pique, Pamela Ricard, a math teacher at Fort Riley Middle School in Kansas, told her supervisors that if they made her use transgender students’ chosen names in class, she would use those names with parents too, even if the students fear for their safety and have requested privacy. She’s getting her way, arguing “religious liberty.”

Yes, you read that right.

A teacher takes it upon herself to out trans kids against their will, claiming a religious duty. She says that since she has to use their preferred names in class, using their legal names in correspondence with parents would be a lie, which would violate her “sincerely held religious beliefs.” So, she sues in federal court.

And she wins.

According to an article in yesterday’s Topeka Capital-Journal, “District Judge Holly Teeter issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking the school from disciplining [Ricard] if she reveals preferred names and pronouns of her transgender students when communicating with their parents.”

“Plaintiff believes that addressing students one way at school and a different way when speaking to their parents is dishonest,” wrote the the judge in her injunction opinion. “Being dishonest violates her sincere religious beliefs.”

Judge Teeter, a Trump appointee, declined to rule on Ricard’s main request — that the school be barred from disciplining her for refusing to use preferred names and pronouns, saying the school district had already reached an accommodation with her.

Pamela Ricard originally sued over using students’ preferred names and pronouns in class

This story first broke in March, when CNN reported that Ricard was suing the Geary County Schools Unified School District in Kansas after being briefly suspended for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred name and pronoun. She claimed that using a name for a student that differed from the student’s enrolled or legal name would force her to violate her “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

She claimed the same with respect to pronouns but later reached an accommodation: she would use a preferred name for any student expressing a name preference, and she would not use pronouns for any student, regardless of sex or gender.

Teeter ruled that the accommodation properly respects Ricard’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” and makes an injunction unnecessary.

But then the judge ruled in favor of Ricard’s second request — that if she used a preferred name in class for any student, she could not be disciplined for using that name (or the student’s preferred pronoun) to the student’s parents against the student’s wishes, even though district policy forbids outing students without their consent.

Let’s talk about religious liberty and lying, because Ricard is lying.

Ricard’s claim that she’s being forced to lie is disingenuous, logically tortuous. Taken together, her two separate arguments constitute a lie of her own. On one hand, she claims using a chosen name violates her sincere religious beliefs. She claims calling a transgender boy (assigned female at birth) by a name customarily reserved for boys would violate her religious freedom because God created male and female as distinct and different, and her speech must reflect that.

Remember, pronouns are not at issue; she’s okay not using them.

One wonders what she thinks about gender-neutral names like Stacey, Bellamy, Dakota, Denver, Emerson, Finley, Justice, or River. When names don’t carry gender, does she have a religious-liberty problem? Does she really believe God has dictated gendered names that people in 21st century United States must choose from?

So, after Ricard makes a literal federal case over refusing to use names in class that don’t communicate gender in a way she agrees with religiously, she turns around and claims she MUST use the same names to parents, for a different religious reason.

Huh, a judge bought this? Is your head spinning as fast as mine?

Ricard has to be lying about something in her lawsuit, and I suggest it’s her motivation for filing. I suggest she does not actually believe speaking a student’s chosen name harms her religiously. I suggest she’s religiously opposed to the existence of transgender people. I suggest that despite having accepted a reasonable accommodation over names and pronouns, she’s intent on crusading to force her religious beliefs on people who don’t share them. She’s determined to out transgender teenagers to their parents against their will, damn the consequences, however statistically likely they are to be severely harmful.

Ricard’s lawyers, the Alliance Defending Freedom, are also lying

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have a long track record as a certified anti-LGBTQ hate group. Here’s what the the Southern Poverty Law Center have to say about them, backed up by reams of documented examples:

Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion.

The freedom that ADF lawyers defend has always meant freedom for extremist Christians to discriminate against and criminalize LGBTQ people. They’ve focused on those objectives for decades, increasingly successfully of late.

In their legal brief in the Ricard case, they claim they’re only “thinking of the well being of children,” arguing that gender dysphoria is a serious mental illness parents must be made aware of.

They aren’t being honest.

Yes, according to the APA, some (but not all) trans people suffer from gender dysphoria, “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.” But, the school district in this case is following best-practice mental-health guidelines, supporting students by allowing them to use names and pronouns they choose, and affording students the sole right to decide when or if they tell anyone, including parents, whether they identify as LGBTQ.

When the ADF say in their brief that Ricard is looking out for the best interests of her students, they are lying. They know what the data show — that trans teens outed to non-supportive parents are statistically at high risk of abuse, abandonment, homelessness, severe depression, and suicidal ideation. ADF lawyers know this because the school district included reams of objective data in their own legal briefs in defense of their student-privacy policies.

ADF lawyers know Ricard is not looking out for the best interests of her students. Maybe they should think about the religious implications of their dishonesty. Maybe Ricard should too.

The religious liberty “lying” claim in Ricard’s case is absurd and anti-Christian

First, I’m unaware of any Christian church or denomination that claims respecting privacy should be considered an act of lying. Exactly what constitutes a lie is hotly debated in religious and philosophical circles, but even relatively traditionalist denominations like the Presbyterians teach that failing to volunteer information usually does not count as a lie. Philosophers get into the weeds FAST when questions of lying come up, because the subject is very complex. (Anne Frank, German soldiers, knocks on doors… Ring any bells, philosophy and theology majors?)

If anyone has ever before made a legal claim that respecting privacy violates religious freedom guarantees because protecting privacy is lying, I can’t find evidence of it.

To claim that Ricard has a religious liberty interest at stake here is philosophically and theologically absurd. Using her students’ enrolled names when communicating with their parents is certainly not an act of lying. Christians protect privacy all the time in accordance with policy and law. Ricard certainly suffers no loss of liberty merely by minding her own business.

What else should Christians be exempt from?

Should Christian health care workers be allowed to violate HIPPA privacy law on the theory that not revealing certain private facts about patients constitutes lying?

Should Christian business leaders be exempt from insider trading laws because not revealing certain private business matters constitutes lying?

Should Christian human resources managers be exempt from privacy policies so they don’t have to “lie” by withholding information?

What would Jesus do? This isn’t even hard!

Esther Spurrill-Jones wrote about this case in Prism & Pen this morning from a Christian perspective. A devout Jesus follower, she writes movingly about millstones, love, legalism, and lies. She writes that no Christian should interpret the Bible in a way that they know will hurt people. I wish Ricard and her ADF lawyers could read Esther’s words with open minds.

Is Outing Transgender Students to Unsupportive Parents Christian?What would Jesus do?medium.com

This case sets no binding precedent, but the implications are disturbing.

Pamela Ricard won’t be teaching at Fort Riley after this school year. Her contract is ending, and she’s not reapplying. Even though she’s got her preliminary injunction, legal analysts say her case will probably end up dismissed because she suffered no harm and will no longer have standing.

The temporary injunction has no legal bearing on anyone but her, so no dangerous precedent has been formally set, but LGBTQ legal advocates are worried anyway. Most court watchers presumed Ricard’s religious freedom claim over lying would be ruled frivolous, that no judge would give it the time of day.

But we live in a brave new backlash, with federal courts stuffed with extremist judges appointed by Donald Trump. Absurd outcomes, like teachers being allowed to out trans kids to unsupportive parents, are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

All I know is this, if you value privacy for LGBTQ teens and real freedom for real people in the United States, you’d better get to the polls in November and vote Democratic like your life depends on it.

Somebody’s life probably does.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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