Early in my junior year of high school, I was expelled for being a lesbian. In the principal’s office, my father had been told that, as an open lesbian spreading “controversial political views” about gay liberation and “engaging other girls in reading obscene materials” (I had purloined some lesbian pulp novels I’d discovered in the library of a family I babysat for and was passing them around), I was a “bad moral influence” on the other girls — the nearly 3,000 other girls at the Philadelphia High School for Girls — Girls’ High. On the way home in the car my father said, “I don’t understand. You’re pretty and boys like you.”
Two weeks after I was expelled, I was placed in the adolescent unit of the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (EPPI) for psychiatric conversion therapy — a common occurrence in the 1970s and well into the 80s. Several other girls from Girls’ High had been sent there.
In the weeks I was a patient at EPPI, I was drugged and therapized and told over and over again that I was not a lesbian, that I did not love my girlfriend or any other girl, that all I had to do was look in the mirror to see I was a pretty, feminine and obviously heterosexual girl and that my “obsession” with other girls was not normal. I was told that this was a phase that some girls go through. I was told I would naturally outgrow it, but that this therapy would speed up the process. There were a dozen other girls undergoing this “therapy” with me.
I left EPPI sick, despondent, rageful and just as lesbian as when I went in. I started cutting myself soon after — something I did for more than a dozen years. I also tried to kill myself.
My parents were Ivy-League- and Seven-Sisters-educated Socialist Civil Rights workers, not religious fanatics. They both had gay friends. The legendary Dr. John Fryer, best known for his anonymous speech at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association, was a friend of my mother and a frequent guest at our house. Yet there was a disconnect when it came to their oldest child. They didn’t believe I was gay and their gay friends, like Fryer, were unhappily so. Steeped in the popularity of Freud, they thought they were “curing” me of a miserable future.
Instead, they created an activist. I have fought conversion therapy, ex-gay programming, and the erasure of gay and lesbian people my entire life.
Since Donald Trump was elected, I’ve been reporting on the Republican Party’s growing obsession with LGBTQ lives. I thought conversion therapy and ex-gay programs would have ended decades ago, but instead they are ramping up, as I have reported in dozens of stories, fueled by rampant GOP homophobia and transphobia, by so-called religious freedom laws, and by the latest and increasingly concerning trend: parental rights laws. The latter is responsible for everything from “Don’t Say Gay” laws to book banning to the claim that gay and lesbian people — and drag queens — are grooming young children to be queer and trans.
In addition to the Trump administration’s radical attempts to overturn same-sex marriage and rescind healthcare provisions expanded during the Obama administration, the GOP has been working at the state level to excise all things LGBTQ from the social landscape, even things as benign as the pride flag.
The religious and political right wants to erase LGBTQ people. They want a mass conversion movement to de-gay and de-trans kids (and, where possible, adults). There is now an endemic belief that LGBTQ identities are bad for society and must be eradicated early.
Conservative commentator Michael Knowles said this in the most unvarnished terms yet on the February 27 episode of The Daily Wire’s “The Michael Knowles Show.” Referencing the latest laws going into effect in Kansas — HB 2238, SB 180, and SB 233 — which all passed the Kansas state legislature on February 23, Knowles said there should be more bills like these.
Knowles said, “Great new law in Kansas. Kansas has become the first state to pass a bill that defines ‘woman’ as someone who is biologically born female. That’s it. That’s what a woman is.”
He also noted, “This is a beautiful bill because it doesn’t just say don’t trans the kids. It doesn’t just say wait till eight to introduce kids to transgenderism in schools. Once they turn nine, that’s fine. It doesn’t just say only minors can’t — it bans transgenderism for all practical purposes in the state for everybody.”
Knowles is saying the law bans human beings.
Knowles says several times that “You have to ban transgenderism entirely. You can’t just ban it for the kids. It’s got to be entirely.”
That’s erasure at an almost eugenicist level.
The Kansas ACLU explained the bills Knowles referenced, noting the most egregious, SB 233, which would “enable the revocation of medical licenses of healthcare providers providing gender-affirming care to minors, resembles similar efforts in other states to ban gender-affirming care.”
ACLU says, “SB 180, a so-called ‘women’s rights bill,’ codifies into law a right to exclude transgender people based on outdated and inaccurate definitions of sex and families, essentially attempting to remove trans people from athletics, restrooms, locker rooms, domestic violence shelters, and other necessary spaces.”
The Kansas House also passed HB 2238, a ban on transgender girls and women from participating in sports.
Knowles said, “I love this bill [in Kansas] because it is so much more aggressive than the other bills we’ve seen…. So the libs attack the family through feminism, the fundamental political institution. The libs push forward with the normalization of other sexual practices — gay rights, among other things. Redefine marriage. Now they’re trying to trans the kids.”
Voices like Knowles and others at The Daily Wire, like virulent misogynist Matt Walsh, who has bonded with author J.K. Rowling over their mutual loathing of trans people, may be at the far right of the anti-trans, anti-gay spectrum, but they are not as fringe as one would think. Back in November, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson claimed the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs had nothing to do with virulent anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right. He also tried to draw a parallel between that mass shooting and gender reassignment surgery as co-equal forms of “violence.”
That all of this legislation proceeds on a weekly basis is a real cause for alarm. In the past week there have been anti-LGBTQ bills passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming. On March 1, embattled New York gay Republican House Rep. George Santos signed onto HR 115, introduced by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.). HR 115 would implement a “Women’s Bill of Rights,” so as to “reaffirm legal protections afforded to women under federal law.” The resolution limits statutes to “biological differences between the sexes.”
Make no mistake, this is conversion therapy on a mass scale. This is telling gay and trans people they are not who they are. A 2020 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that non-transgender LGB people who experienced conversion therapy were almost twice as likely to think about suicide and to attempt suicide compared to their peers who hadn’t experienced conversion therapy. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that rates of suicidal thoughts have trended upward among LGBTQ young people over the last three years.
I have never been able to forget the traumatizing treatment I received from doctors who were trying to change my innate lesbian nature. No one should have to endure such a soul-shattering experience. But this is what the GOP wants to do en masse to queer and trans youth like I was. They want to try and erase sexual orientation and gender identity at its most nascent stage.
I am here to tell you, it doesn’t work. But it does do immeasurable harm. Which is why it must be stopped.