GLAAD was founded in 1985, with the acronym standing for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. As Wikipedia notes, the organization has now extended its coverage to transsexual and bisexual people. That’s presumably why the organization will remain “GLAAD” without the full name being used.
GLAAD (/ɡlæd/) is an American non-governmental media monitoring organization. Originally founded as a protest against defamatory coverage of gay and lesbian demographics and their portrayals in the media and entertainment industries, it has since included bisexual and transgender people.
Yesterday, a whole pile of celebrities and “influencers”, as well as “allies,” posted a demand on the GLAAD site for social media moguls (Zuckerberg, Musk, etc.) to stop allowing disinformation and “hate speech” against trans people on their sites. I wholeheartedly agree with nearly everything on the list of demands, which you can read by clicking below). But I have two significant objections. First, read the statement (you’ll be impressed by the list of supporters):
Here’s the content that the signers want censored by companies like Facebook and Twitter:
- Content that spreads malicious lies and disinformation about medically necessary healthcare for transgender youth. As described above, such harmful content from high-follower hate-based accounts has resulted in extraordinary real-world harms.13 Specific mitigations on such disinformation must be developed (for instance akin to election and COVID-19 mitigations and rules).
- Accounts and postings that perpetuate anti-LGBTQ extremist hate14 and disinformation,15 in violation of platform policies, and which target trans and LGBTQ people, including baseless and malicious disinformation of LGBTQ people being threats to children (e.g. the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” conspiracy theory16). Such harmful and dangerous lies must be more effectively moderated and mitigated.
- Dehumanizing, hateful attacks on prominent transgender public figures and influencers. Online attacks against LGBTQ organizations and individuals are on the rise.17 A recent report from GLAAD, UltraViolet, Kairos, and the Women’s March shows that 60% of LGBTQ people feel harmed not only from direct harassment and hate, but from witnessing harassment against other LGBTQ community members such as celebrities and public figures.18 Directing hate against LGBTQ public figures is a common vehicle for expressing general anti-LGBTQ bigotry. When your companies maintain policy loopholes that allow such hate, this perpetuates harm against entire communities.
- Anti-transgender hate speech, including targeted misgendering, deadnaming, and hate-driven tropes.19 For example, Media Matters, GLAAD and others have identified multiple YouTube videos — which have accumulated millions of views — that bully, harass, and misgender trans people. In each video, prominent anti-trans pundits use YouTube to demean, target, and misgender young people, their parents, and public figures20 in videos saturated with blatant anti-trans rhetoric. These videos remain active despite these violations having been reported by Media Matters, GLAAD, and other organizations to YouTube.
My first qualification is about “hate speech.” My view is that, as far as possible, social-media outlets should adhere to the First Amendment principles of free speech, while recognizing that, as private companies, they don’t have to. But I’m in favor of the open discourse that the First Amendment provides.
Note, though, that the Amendment does not protect all speech: it disallows threats to people, speech intended to promote imminent lawless action , false advertising, fraud, and defamation. FIRE gives a list of exceptions, noting that “hate speech” and online “harassment” (but not harassment in the workplace) are protected categories of speech. I’m not sure why, if you take the First Amendment view, transgender people should be protected from legal speech while other groups like Jews, Muslims, or any minority, are not. (As a First-Amendment hard-liner, and a secular Jew, I am perfectly happy to have people make anti-Semitic remarks on social media, including denying the Holocaust or even, like the Scottish dog, raise their paw when the owner says “gas the Jews”.) But of course I reserve the right to answer that nonsense on the same social media.
Given the tremendous variation in what people think of as “hate speech” which is also legal speech, nobody should be immune on social media from “hate speech”—except the form that violates the First Amendment. For crying out loud, P. Z. Myers called me an “asshole” on his blog the other day, and I’m fine with that, though I won’t engage in the kind of puerile name-calling that occurs during his daily Two Minutes Hate.
But what worries me about this particular issue is that some justifiable discussion of trans matters might fall under the nature of “hate speech” or “disinformation about medically necessary healthcare for transgender youth”, and it this discussion should not be censored on the grounds that it engenders hate. I’m thinking in particular of criticism of “affirmative care”, which to me includes not just a therapeutic rush to confirm whatever gender identity a young person claims, but also the rush to give gender-dysphoric children puberty-blocking hormones. This is because the efficacy of “gender affirming therapy” (henceforth GAT), as contrasted with conventional therapy with an objective and empathic counselor has not been demonstrated, and GAT almost invariably leads to hormones: first blockers and then either testosterone or estrogen. (And sometimes surgery.) We know that most gender dysphoric children who aren’t given GAT will resolve their issues, most often either resuming their original gender or becoming gay. In both cases. the possibly damaging effects of hormone therapy and surgery are avoided. Of course some of those children will go on to become transgender, and assuming that they are of age (say 16 or 18) when they decide to take hormones, that is their decision.
But the manifesto above assumes that GAT is always the way to go. At least that’s what I take from the desire to ban “Content that spreads malicious lies and disinformation about medically necessary healthcare for transgender youth.” Who determines what is “medically necessary” for youth? The assumption here is that transgender youth (including those who are gender dysphoric and feel “trapped in the wrong body”) require medical healthcare. Yet there’s a lot of debate about that, and that debate should not be censored, even if you think social media needn’t adhere to the First Amendment. These issues are ongoing throughout the West, and Europe has dealt with them differently from the U.S., taking a more wait-and-see approach. Calling for caution about these matters until the data are is is not transphobia.
And there is this claim in the text leading up to the list of demands given above. The bolding is mine.
This disinformation and hate, inadequately moderated on your platforms, plays an outsized role in the sharp increase in real-world anti-transgender targeting and violence.9 As documented by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in 2022,10 this is particularly the case when it comes to the online extremists leading proactive coordinated campaigns of hate and lies about gender affirming healthcare for trans youth.11 Despite the fact that every leading medical and psychological association affirms the safety and necessity of gender affirming healthcare for trans people, including youth, inflammatory disinformation falsely asserting that this healthcare is dangerous is allowed to fester on your platforms because it drives clicks and profit. Trans youth and their families and care providers are being endangered by your negligence, causing many families to flee their homes.
It may well be that all the American associations assert that gender-affirming healthcare is “safe and necessary”, but there are many physicians who dissent. More important, entire European countries have not embraced that affirmation, but are worried about the hormonal aspects of GAT as possibly harmful in the long term, and are using things like puberty blockers only in clinical trials. This is now the case in the UK and Sweden, while puberty blockers are being strictly limited in places like Finland, Norway, and France. And just yesterday Ireland’s national health service board (the HSE) ordered a review of puberty blockers in children with gender dysphoria.
But doctors do not agree [with American claims that GAT is necessary] , particularly in Europe, where no treatments have been banned but a genuine debate is unfurling in this field. In Finland, for example, new treatment guidelines put out in 2020 advised against the use of puberty-blocking drugs and other medical interventions as a first line of care for teens with adolescent-onset dysphoria. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare followed suit in 2022, announcing that such treatments should be given only under exceptional circumstances or in a research context. Shortly after that, the National Academy of Medicine in France recommended la plus grande réserve in the use of puberty blockers. Just last month, a national investigatory board in Norway expressed concerns about the treatment. And the U.K.’s only national gender clinic for children, the Tavistock, has been ordered to close its doors after a government-commissioned report found, among other problems, that its Dutch-protocol-based approach to treatment lacked sufficient evidence.
Last November, the NYT reviewed the evidence for the harms vs. the value of puberty blockers, concluding that we just don’t have enough data to pronounce them safe and irreversible. Another NYT article by Emily Bazelon last June highlighted the “deep divisions” in America’s medical community about gender-affirming healthcare. Here’s an excerpt from Bazelon’s piece.
Taking puberty suppressants (or hormones) for gender affirmation is “off-label,” meaning this specific use of the medications is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Off-label prescriptions are common and don’t imply anything improper, but there may be less research about the drug’s effects. If young people continue on to hormone treatments, puberty suppressants “probably” compromise fertility, especially for trans girls, Stephen M. Rosenthal, a pediatric endocrinologist at the gender center at U.C.S.F. who is on the group for the SOC8 chapter on hormone treatments, explained in a review last year for Nature Reviews Endocrinology. The medication can also prevent bone density from increasing as it typically would, and while levels returned to normal in trans boys who went on to hormone therapy, they remained low in trans girls who did the same, according to a 2020 study from the Amsterdam clinic. Little is known about the impact on brain development. “The relative paucity of outcomes data raises notable concerns,” Rosenthal wrote in his review. But he has no hesitation about prescribing puberty suppressants to kids who are deemed ready for them at his clinic. “The observed benefits greatly outweigh the potential adverse effects,” he said.
The problem is that we don’t have a good handle on the “potential adverse effects.” That’s why they’re “potential.”
(See my post on her article and the ACLU’s enraged reaction to Bazelon’s piece).
I’ll draw to a close by saying that the two NYT pieces alone would be considered “hate speech” by the GLAAD manifesto above, yet they’re objective discussions of GAT, both affirming the need for more data before we start a widespread practice of prescribing hormones to kids with gender dysphoria. This is not transphobia, but a necessary and essential debate that has to take place, along with acquiring data, before making GAT any kind of gold standard or requirement for treating gender-dysphoric children. Calling for bans on such discussion is not only misguided, but potentially harmful.
Finally, Jesse Singal has tweeted his take on the manifesto above:
2/ If this policy were enacted, it would mean that users could get suspended or banned for e.g. publishing the Swedish health authority's view that "the risks of [youth gender medicine] currently outweigh the possible benefits[.]"
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) June 27, 2023
4/ When I tried to reach out to GLAAD to discuss some of this stuff, I was informed "GLAAD is not a medical organization or association" and was referred to Jack Turban as a trustworthy expert. pic.twitter.com/BBLHyXgh6v
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) June 27, 2023
In the response from GLAAD, two physicians are mentioned, and you might want to look up their records. They—especially Turban—are known for being wholehearted advocates of GAT.