Groups like the 'American College of Pediatricians' are using their professional associations to legitimize dangerous messaging about LGBTQ people.
Several groups outside of mainstream professional health organizations are utilizing their image as legitimate health resources to attack transgender-affirming care and promote anti-LGBTQ "conversion therapy."
"Conversion therapy" is a practice that wrongly asserts LGBTQ people's sexual orientation or gender can be changed through a variety of harmful methods. It has been discredited by leading health experts as dangerous, ineffective, and based in falsehoods about human sexuality and gender.
In recent years, a number of anti-LGBTQ groups have attempted to push "conversion therapy," regardless of its dangers, by passing themselves off as mainstream health care associations, advocating against gender-affirming care and any political progress on transgender rights.
Among those groups is the American College of Pediatricians.
The group, whose name is markedly similar to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a distinguished professional association founded in 1930, is frequently referred to as ACPeds. It is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "a fringe anti-LGBTQ hate group."
ACPeds, which was founded in 2002, has filed court briefs against marriage equality and LGBTQ adoption in the past. The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism notes that ACPeds is made up of a number of conservative medical professionals who left the American Academy of Pediatrics over its support for LGBTQ couples adopting children.
According to Raven Hodges, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American College of Pediatricians "has been able to blur lines and make it sound more official and back concepts or beliefs that are no longer commonplace for most pediatricians and most health care providers in our country."
The organization promotes "conversion therapy" and in 2016 released a statement opposing the acceptance of transgender children.
"The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex," the group said. "Facts — not ideology — determine reality."
Promotion by conservative figures has allowed ACPeds to enter mainstream dialogue. A 2016 tweet by conservative radio host Glenn Beck, for example, which cited statements by ACPeds calling gender affirmation "child abuse," led many to believe that the American Academy of Pediatrics had taken such a stance.
The organization influenced public discourse more recently after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) questioned Rachel Levine, then nominee for assistant health secretary, in 2021 about gender-affirming care for transgender youth, which can include hormone treatments and puberty blockers. During a Senate confirmation hearing, Paul cited ACPeds to support his argument against offering such care to minors.
"The American College of Pediatricians reports that 80% to 95% of prepubertal children with gender dysphoria will experience 'resolution' by late adolescence if not exposed to medical intervention and social affirmation," Paul claimed. "...Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one's sex?"
Levine demurred, suggesting that transgender care was a "complex and nuanced" subject that required more thoughtful discussion.
Paul's concerns, as well as ACPeds' assertions, ignored reality. Most health experts recommend against puberty blockers for adolescents under 16, and as Politifact notes, "The guidelines for the medical care of transgender patients, developed by organizations such as the Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health ... typically restrict genital reassignment surgery to those 18 and older, who also meet other criteria."
Levine eventually went on to become the first openly transgender person confirmed by the Senate.
As Hodges noted, speaking with the American Independent Foundation, ACPeds has gained power at a time when policymakers have to rely more on dubious claims about transgender people in order to pass anti-trans bills. And the more legitimate a group sounds, the better that legislation may fare.
"They're trying to go at it with pseudoscience and I think that's where this group is really hitting its stride, because this is what they do. They are using their medical profession and their license and their ability to practice to uphold anything they say," Hodges said.
They added, "I think we're going to see them being used a lot more to combat any form of gender-affirming care for minors. [...] We may see more usage of [ACPeds'] content as they try to become more mainstream."
ACPeds is not the only group making a name for itself among conservative lawmakers.
The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice is a Utah-based group originally founded in 1992, which according to the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism was rebranded in 2014 from its former name, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
In the past, the group has awarded such figures as Mat Staver, who founded the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel, with its prestigious "President's Award," honoring "worthy individuals in the fields of research, psychotherapy and medicine as well as those who have made a significant contributions in advancing the public understanding of human sexuality." The group has given the award to numerous medical professionals who have openly supported "conversion therapy."
According to the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Alliance for Therapeutic Choice recently pushed back against a bill banning "conversion therapy" in the state of Utah, praising an amendment which watered down the legislation by limiting the ban to only "practices that cause pain or physical distress to a minor patient," according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The organization also held a conference in September 2021 that included panels on transgender people. One of those panels focused on individuals who "detransition" to argue against transitioning itself.
The group's trans resources website also refers to the term "rapid-onset gender dysphoria," a term used to define young people supposedly coming out as transgender to fit in socially. The 2018 study that coined the term has since been criticized as "below scientific standards."
As more states try to ban the practice of "conversion therapy," with 20 states and more than 100 municipalities passing these policies, these organizations may also seek to fight them to protect their own business interests, said Wendy Via, president and co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
"Therapists that base their business on 'conversion therapy,' no matter what they call it … they do not want it banned because then they won't have a business based on that," she said.
Meanwhile, transgender rights remain under attack. In 2021, at least 35 bills were introduced in state legislatures to stop transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care. In Arkansas, a ban on such care was temporarily blocked to allow a lawsuit challenging the legislation to proceed.
At least six new pieces of legislation prohibiting gender-affirming care have been introduced so far this year as well, while Republicans at the state level simultaneously push bills protecting the practice of "conversion therapy."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.