Ryan Anderson on Gender Ideology and Taking on the ‘Woke Elite’: Christian Vision Counters the Lies
‘This was never about science or evidence to begin with, but about ideology …’
Last week a school district in Virginia passed a controversial policy mandating teachers use “transgender pronouns” in the classroom while the state of Texas moved to declare sex-reassignment surgeries for minors be treated as child abuse. This all comes on the heels of a federal court moving to block the Biden administration’s transgender mandate, protecting the rights of millions of doctors and nurses who are faced with violating their consciences. As the traditional family and our faith come under attack, it has become increasingly clear that we, as Catholics, must engage in war with these ideologies that are invading our homes and wreaking havoc on the minds of our children grappling with discerning the truth.
Catholic husband and father Ryan Anderson, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has been a leading advocate for biology and the truth of such matters, especially as it pertains to male and female, with his highly acclaimed, and recently banned, book, When Harry Became Sally. In an email interview, Anderson discussed with the Register the recent federal court blocking of the transgender mandate, the need for conscience protections, and how Catholics can be best equipped to take on the nonstop onslaught of gender ideology. He also discusses several projects of the Ethics and Public Policy Center that are in place to help promote and protect the traditional family from secular assault.
With the news last week of a federal court blocking the transgender mandate — it’s now the second court ruling blocking the mandate — what are your thoughts, and what role is the EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project playing in shedding light on these violations of conscience?
There should be no transgender mandate. And thank God for [law group] Becket’s work in litigating these cases. They’ve now successfully stopped both the Obama transgender mandate and the Biden transgender mandate. Of course, in between, there was no Trump transgender mandate, thanks to the hard work of Roger Severino, who was the head of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS throughout the Trump administration. He rightfully saw that the transgender mandate was unlawful — because the word “sex” does not mean “gender identity”; that it was bad medicine — because gender dysphoria should be treated without radically transforming the body with puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and surgery; and that it would violate the civil rights of conscientious medical doctors who sought to follow the Hippocratic Oath.
And I was proud to bring Roger Severino to EPPC as my first hire as president to head up EPPC’s new HHS Accountability Project. EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project monitors the largest federal agency (by budget) to ensure its actions further the common good under law. Particular attention is given to respect for conscience, religious freedom, the family and human life from conception to natural death. Roger was instrumental in rolling back the original transgender mandate imposed under Obama, and he and his team at EPPC have exposed the Biden administration’s abandonment of conscience protections regarding transgender treatments and abortion as both bad law and bad policy through scholarship, advocacy in the media, coalition building and collaboration with members of Congress. They’re keeping tabs on various other violations coming from HHS, including most recently the Biden administration’s refusal to penalize a hospital that forced a pro-life nurse to assist in performing an abortion.
Your book, When Harry Became Sally, took on gender dysphoria in a compassionate way, but also called out gender ideology. As you succinctly state in your book: “Biology isn’t bigotry.” Why should we as Catholics be concerned about this full court press of the “LGBT” movement, and what can families do who are concerned about this infiltrating their own homes?
All of us, and Catholics in particular, should be concerned with transgender ideology because it isn’t true, and it causes harm to those who get caught up in it. All of us, and Catholics in particular, have a duty to bear witness to the truth and to promote the common good in all of its aspects. That includes a sound understanding of sex and gender. My book was one contribution to that discussion, a discussion that Amazon and others would rather we not have. But it is vital that we refuse to be silenced. If we don’t speak up, who will?
Parents in particular need to educate themselves about what activists are promoting through the schools, media, entertainment — the teen world, especially social media, is saturated with messages and images promoting “trans” identity and “gender diversity” as normal and healthy, which means kids are consuming those messages all day long. It will have an effect on how they think about themselves, the body and relationships in ways incompatible with both science (reason) and faith.
In addition to my book, my EPPC colleague Mary Hasson has created an entire set of wonderful resources to help parents, pastors and educators better understand and respond to “trans” ideology. The Person and Identity Project at EPPC has exactly what Catholics need — Q&As, “toolkits” and recommended resources — to understand the Christian vision of the person and counter the lies of gender ideology.
Beyond educating themselves, parents need to realize that “LGBT” content is flooding the public schools, not just in coursework, but in the school culture. And there’s no “opting out” of school culture the way you might be able to opt out of a given sex-ed class. One public-school principal in Atlanta recently told a Catholic family, “It doesn’t matter what class or teacher your kids have, ‘LGBT-inclusive’ materials will be in every classroom.” Parents need to realize their kids need a Catholic education more than ever — whether at home, in a Catholic classical school or the parish school — which means we need public policy making educational choice a reality, something EPPC Fellow Patrick Brown wrote on just last week.
The American Association of Pediatrics recently told the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, comprised of more than 100 clinicians and researchers who doubt so-called transgender science and ideology, that they couldn’t set up an information booth at the association’s national conference. We have also heard from many voices who have transitioned regretting their decision. Why is the debate on transgenderism stifled on such a grand scale, it seems? Of course, this follows after the digital book burning you experienced with Amazon and other outlets.
The silencing, shaming and censoring that we see on this issue is a sign of weakness from the left, not strength. Sure, it’s strength in one sense, that they control so many powerful institutions of American life — from the news media, to entertainment, to big business and big tech, to the major medical associations. But it’s a sign of weakness because they know their ideology can’t stand up to scrutiny, and that’s why they have to use their power to shut down discussion. We’re on the side of the truth, and we need to be faithful in bearing witness to it, and in using legal mechanisms to reduce the power of various “woke” forces in our culture.
For example, legislation is needed to prevent adults from interfering with a child’s normal, natural bodily development. As I’ve argued before, “gender affirmation” procedures violate sound medical ethics. It is profoundly unethical to intervene in the normal physical development of a child as part of “affirming” a “gender identity” at odds with bodily sex. While puberty-blocking drugs may be an appropriate treatment for precocious puberty — the early onset of puberty — in order to delay puberty to a biologically appropriate age, the use of puberty blockers to delay or permanently block natural biological puberty in order to “affirm” a discordant “gender identity” is unethical and violates the bodily integrity of children. Administering cross-sex hormones to minors, in an attempt to make their bodies cosmetically resemble those of the opposite sex or of their preferred “gender identity,” is likewise a violation of sound ethical norms and the rights of minors. Surgically removing genitals or secondary sex characteristics in an effort to “affirm” a “gender identity” — as done to 13-year-old girls who underwent double mastectomies in taxpayer-funded “research” — is particularly heinous. Governments should prohibit this misuse of medical technology and protect children from these harms.
Just this month, the EPPC announced that renowned theologian Carl Trueman has joined EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program as a fellow. He recently has come under attack by Big Tech, just like yourself, for a talk he gave during the Sacramento Gospel Conference. This, of course, is just one of countless attacks on First Amendment rights, but also Christian thought specifically — especially as it pertains to marriage and family. What role will Trueman be adding to the EPPC, and how does EPPC’s Big Tech Project work to protect free speech?
[San Francisco] Archbishop Cordileone and Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, wrote a great Wall Street Journal op-ed about what happened to Carl, and I encourage people to read it. More or less, what we’re witnessing is that people who speak publicly in defense of basic biblical views of anthropology and sexuality are being silenced by Big Tech. This is going to become more and more of a problem unless we craft public policy to reign in the power of various Big Tech companies.
We started the Big Tech Project at EPPC and hired Attorney General Bill Barr’s former assistant, Clare Morell, to run it, precisely to help conservatives come together to clearly identify and articulate the problems that Big Tech poses to our society and our republican form of self-government, and to think critically about targeted, constitutionally sound policy solutions to these varied problems. At EPPC we work to advance the best policies we can to hold Big Tech companies accountable for their practices that threaten the interests of the American public. And we want to bring an end to Big Tech’s censorship of conservative voices and speech. Clare has produced a series of top-notch essays on the topic and organized a symposium featuring a who’s who of the legal and policy world, including four U.S. senators, to debate the various policy proposals on the table.
As for Carl Trueman, no one is producing finer scholarship to help the church better understand the historical moment in which we find ourselves than Carl. Bringing Carl to EPPC will give him regular access to policymakers and other civic leaders who need to benefit from his immense learning. Carl is the author of the best-selling, award-winning 2020 book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution. A concise version of his argument, Strange New World, is due to be published in February 2022, and I was honored Carl asked me to write the foreword to it — and I look forward to getting it in all the right hands.
I’m sure you’ve been following the case of 9-year-old James Younger — his trans-activist mother has just won full custody of her son. Fortunately, the case does not allow for the mother to offer the child puberty blockers or transgender-reassignment surgery. However, many teens are availed the opportunity to take these drugs despite the lack of research. Why doesn’t “follow the science” apply to transgender ideology?
These sorts of cases are both heartbreaking and outrageous. While above I mentioned that using medical technology to “affirm” a mistaken “gender identity” violates medical ethics, so, too, is it unethical to socially transition a child — to tell a child lies about who they are and about their embodiment. It is profoundly unethical to tell a child that they were born in the wrong body, or that their sex was wrongly “assigned at birth” or that modern medicine can “reassign” their sex — let alone tell them that they are “gender fluid” or “non-binary” or any of the other new ideological categories.
Everyone should be able to agree that adults should not interfere with the natural, healthy development of the bodies and minds of children. Children must be provided with the time and space to develop to maturity. To tell a child that he or she is of the opposite sex (or both, or neither), or to encourage a child’s mistaken belief that he is something other than a boy, or she something other than a girl, is deeply unjust to that child. Childhood and adolescence are difficult enough as it is. Adults should not corrupt the social ecology in which children develop a mature understanding of themselves as boys or girls on the pathway to becoming men or women.
And, of course, there is exactly no rigorous research or evidence that suggests social or medical transition is beneficial for minors. Why doesn’t “follow the science” apply here? Because this was never about science or evidence to begin with, but about ideology. And, sadly, the refrain “follow the science” is more often than not used as a way to push controversial philosophical commitments as if they were objective truths discovered by the scientific method.
We are seeing some countries, including Poland, push back, creating laws specifically to curb any displays of content to minors that depict homosexuality or gender change. However, we seem to see the opposite in the States, with toddler story hours being infiltrated by drag queens and even kids’ cartoons promoting agendas. Why do you think this ideology is so pervasive, and why isn’t there any sense of age-appropriateness?
Policymakers should do everything in their power to legally prevent the promotion of a harmful ideology, especially as directed to children. Just as citizens have rightly pushed back on critical race theory being mandated in K-12 schools, so, too, should we push back on the various transgender-ideology mandates taking place in public schools.
But, really, this isn’t just a question of age-appropriateness. Gender ideology is a worldview, and its “true believers” are trying to make converts, and it’s easier to convince children — rather than adults — of a new, radical belief system. So it’s not surprising that there’s a push on mandating this in schools. All of us need to understand the language used by this movement: It has built-in erroneous assumptions — what I’ve called the philosophical contradictions of the transgender worldview — and how children are taught to speak will change how they think about themselves, the body and reality itself. So this is a real and intentional effort to normalize various sexual behaviors, identity claims and relationships that violate the natural moral law, do not lead to human flourishing, and are fundamentally opposed to Catholic teachings. As I mentioned above, there are resources to equip parents and teachers to respond. EPPC’s Person and Identity Project can equip Catholics and Catholic institutions with the language, resources and pastoral guidance to promote the Christian vision of the person and expose the lies of gender ideology.
The Olympics in Tokyo just wrapped, and we had some firsts, including a “transgender” person competing in a weightlifting competition. In June, we also saw a transgender person win Miss Nevada and who will now be allowed to compete in the Miss America pageant. What impact do you think these moments, applauded by mainstream media, will have on “normalizing” the transgender movement?
The first thing to point out is that it is unfair for males — regardless of how they identify — to compete against females in a variety of forms of physical competition. Sometimes in addition to unfairness, it is also unsafe, when those forms of physical competition also involve physical contact. Male and female bodies are different, which is why we have separate athletic competitions for men and women. While we should always be compassionate to people struggling with a gender-identity conflict, true compassion does not violate the truth, or force other people to sacrifice their equality, privacy and safety.
The second thing to say is that all of us — but especially young people — are impressionistic and [can be] swayed by popular culture, especially by elite opinion. The push in the mainstream media to celebrate trans identities is a coordinated strategy at changing public opinion. We should not be naïve about the ultimate goal here. Various legal battles and sport policies, for example, are part of the larger goal of not only societal acceptance, but endorsement and affirmation. That’s why the legal redefinition of marriage in Obergefell wasn’t enough; it was merely one step in the larger project of endorsement and affirmation — which is why the baker has to bake the cake and the Catholic adoption agency violate its beliefs.
The Theology of Home Project at the EPPC, led by Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering, that was just formed seems to be coming at the right time. In speaking with both of them, I’ve learned that the project is really about making home life the focal point, not just a drop between destinations, but securing the family core unit as the nucleus, so to speak. Can you tell us what is at the core of this new project and it’s work to preserve the family as the domestic church?
Thank you for saying that. Carrie and Noelle were doing amazing work as free agents with their Theology of Home books and blog that I thought we needed to institutionalize this project, highlight and promote the good work they’re doing both as a team and as individual scholars, and then empower and enable them to have more of an impact. We’re still looking for some additional financial support of their work, as many philanthropists don’t readily understand the impact that an investment in family life would have for generations to come. Sadly, one of the most devastating effects of the attack on family life is our inability to see the beauty and fulfillment on offer by prioritizing a whole and thriving home life. The relentless messaging of popular culture is strong in its individualistic and anti-family bent. The true restoration of American culture is going to happen when we start offering women in particular a different way to see themselves, their families and their happiness.
The mission of the Theology of Home Project is to tap into the natural human desire for a flourishing family life and to provide a compelling case for the traditional family, not only through intellectual arguments, but also affectively, through visual and audio media. It helps people see the importance — both theologically and practically — of a flourishing home life and helps people better live it out. It’s the best of both theory and practice when it comes to the home. And it’s the perfect addition to EPPC, as we work to be a holistic think tank for Catholics and other social conservatives who want to defend moral truths in the public square, see public policy embody and promote such truths, and live out the truth in their own homes and communities.
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