TRANSCRIPT: ‘Conversion Therapy: The Disinformation Blueprint’

The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality Season 2, Episode 1 transcript and replay:


CONTENT ADVISORY: self-harm, suicide, torture…

Hi, I’m Imara Jones. This is Season 2 of The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality.At the end of Season 1, I knew that we weren’t done with the story of the anti-trans hate machine. In fact, since then, there’s been a rising tide of anti-trans hate in America. Unlike a few years ago, when trans acceptance seemed almost inevitable. But today, we’re facing the reality of the Christian Nationalist obsession with trans people, one that is deeply connected to their dark authoritarian project to bring about an anti-democratic future for everyone.

Here’s the truth: trans people are in crisis and America is in crisis. These two stories are inherently linked. That’s why this season, we’re charting how over 40 years of focus by the conservative movement have brought us here. It’s a story of how anti-trans ideas are dressed up as pseudoscience by Christian Nationalist groups seeded across the internet, picked up by right-wing media, and ultimately laundered by mainstream news organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic magazine. At each stage of the process, they traffic in the notion that trans people aren’t real, that we aren’t human. And they create the cultural arguments and environment necessary to generate public support for the hundreds of anti-trans bills we’ve been seeing in state houses over the past few years, inching us further towards fascism.

This is the ride that we will be taking this season.

So let’s take a deep breath and get started on this twisted journey. But just a heads-up though, it’s one that involves themes of self-harm and abuse, so please take care of yourself as you listen throughout. To understand all that’s happening right now, we need to travel back in time more than a half a century ago. We have to begin with conversion therapy.

ARCHIVAL FROM “BOYS BEWARE” (1961): ”What Jimmy didn’t know was that Ralph was sick, a sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious. A sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual.”

For much of the 20th century, “homosexuality” was a psychiatric diagnosis. It was an umbrella term for anyone operating outside of gender norms, whether they were gay, trans, or bisexual. Those diagnosed with “homosexuality” could be sent away and subjected to all kinds of quack medical treatments  – in an effort to “correct” the condition – with electric shocks, hysterectomies, even lobotomies.

What’s astounding is that after nearly 50 years, LGBTQ youth are still victim to the latest version of these practices. In fact, nearly 1 out of 12 LGBTQ adults in the US have endured some form of conversion therapy in their life. That’s according to research from UCLA’s Williams Institute. This means that almost everyone knows someone who has experienced it.

Arielle Rebekah is one of them.

Arielle Rebekah: I always felt like the odd one out, both in my family and in my town.

Arielle grew up in Harrington Park, NJ, just an hour from New York City. It’s a suburb that Arielle describes as a “white picket fence” kind of place, where appearances were paramount.

Arielle Rebekah: I felt different and was treated like I was different and I was bullied. And my family really tried to help me with that. But, you know, like any family, they are imperfect.

As a kid, Arielle struggled with depression and things only got worse as they got older.

Arielle Rebekah: And puberty, like for a lot of trans kids, was when things started to get really bad. I just had this heightening awareness that I was not a boy.

Arielle’s mental health continued to deteriorate. They developed an eating disorder, started hurting themselves and eventually were hospitalized for a suicide attempt. Arielle’s parents knew that they had to do something.

So they sent Arielle to a place called Carlbrook School where their parents genuinely thought that they’d get the help and support that they needed. Arielle remembers driving up to the school for the first time with their parents.

Arielle Rebekah: So the campus itself had very, like, ominous vibes. It was literally on an old tobacco plantation in Virginia. 

Imara Jones: What?

Arielle Rebekah: And some of the old buildings were the same, like big white columns with a stone manor house where the family that owned the plantation used to sleep. And, like, there were historical plaques about the old plantation on the campus.

Arielle felt uneasy, but Carlbrook promised to support its students with structure and mental health support and Arielle took the need to get better really seriously. That’s one reason why they decided to come out as trans. It happened at a daily ritual called Last Light where students and staff members gathered in the school’s common area to share a story or an accomplishment. 

Arielle Rebekah: I sat down in front of 130 of my fellow students and staff members and a bunch of therapists and said, I am transgender. I want you to call me Arielle. And I want to go on hormones and like kind of word vomited from there. 

And in that moment, Arielle felt really supported. The room filled with applause before several people came up to hug Arielle and offer their congratulations.  

This was a big step for them, and Arielle felt really good and really hopeful about the future. People even started using their pronouns right away. But one week later, Arielle’s therapist asked them to walk over to his office with him.

Arielle Rebekah: And on the way over, he said, you know, there’s something I have to tell you. I had to tell your parents what you said during Last Light. And I was taken aback and assumed I’d misunderstood. And it was like, Sorry, what are you, what are you talking about? And he said, I had to tell them that you said you were trans. 

Arielle felt hurt, and angry, but there was no time to process any of those feelings. When they arrived at the office he just handed Arielle the phone. 

 Arielle Rebekah: And from the second I picked up the phone, they were angry with me. And I didn’t understand why. But by partway into the phone call, I found out that my therapist, after being forced to do so by the administration, had told my parents that I wasn’t actually transgender.

This call Arielle had with their parents was only the beginning.

Arielle Rebekah: I show up in class one day and suddenly everybody is using my dead name again. Everybody is using he/him pronouns again.

The administration had told the other students that Arielle was just looking for attention and that they shouldn’t change how they referred to their classmate. Some of Arielle’s friends tried to resist, but anyone who supported them was disciplined harshly. 

This was part of a larger culture of discipline and control at Carlbrook. Arielle remembers particularly brutal treatment, in fact, during what the school called “workshops.” 

Arielle Rebekah: Without fail, they would deprive us of sleep to the point where they could feed us whatever they wanted to feed us about ourselves. And we were so scared of being kicked out of workshops and having to stay in the program for six months longer. That even if we did have the wherewithal to push back, none of us would. 

During the workshops, leaders at Carlbrook used other inhumane tactics too. 

Arielle Rebekah: So we weren’t allowed to interact with anyone who wasn’t in the workshop for the duration of the three day workshop. And we would get about like 4 hours of sleep at night and they would say that was because like we didn’t get through the stuff fast enough and it was our fault. We had to scream at the top of our lungs while pounding a pillow with our full force. The idea was that you were getting out your aggression. In each workshop there would be a part intended to physically exhaust us. And then following that would be the session where they would try to feed us some information about ourselves that they had like pre-planned to feed us. That was when they held a baby picture of me up to me and kept saying, you know, Look at this little boy. Don’t you just want to protect him? Don’t you just want to show him all the love?

Arielle remembers another particularly difficult session. 

Arielle Rebekah: And I continued to insist that actually, no, a lot of my self-harm and my self-loathing and my attention seeking behaviors exist because I am so like desperate to live my truth for the first time in my life, that it’s extremely distressing.

It always felt draining to have to argue with workshop leaders like this. 

Arielle Rebekah: And I just, I, I kept trying to push this point with her and she continued to escalate it. She continued to scream at me and belittle me in front of the peer group about how I wasn’t doing the work. And I’m not even joking, like screaming at me, top of her lungs. At a certain point she just screams, Get the fuck out. 

Students at Carlbrook also had their meals withheld. Sometimes they were given lots of food, sometimes very little. Mealtimes were never consistent, adding to the feeling of uncertainty that students felt at all times. 

To be clear these are so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA during the War on Terror. Of course “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a euphemism for torture.  

And like those who experience torture, many never come back from it. 

In fact, Arielle and a group of other survivors from Carlbrook have calculated that 1 out of every 50 students who attended the school committed suicide. 

Over time, the brainwashing began to work and warp Arielle’s sense of self.

Arielle Rebekah: I just gave up. I stopped trying to bring it up. I stopped talking about it to people. Um, I just used he/him pronouns. 

Imara Jones: How did that feel?

Arielle Rebekah: Horrible. I had more inner chaos and fear than I had had when I got to the program. You know, I’d gotten there really eager to transition, eager to come out and finally understand this part of myself that I’d been denying for so long. And it felt like I had gone backwards. It felt like all of these people outside of me were saying, like, Wow, look at how much progress he’s made. While I knew that that was false, I knew that I in many ways was so much further from where I wanted to be. And I was scared. I was just a shell of who I had previously been. I lost the fire inside me.

Fortunately, Carlbrook shut down in late 2015. But the damage to Arielle and countless other young people was already done. Eventually, Arielle went to college, where they could finally begin to live their life.

Arielle Rebekah: Something happened the second my parents walked off the campus on the first day of freshmen week, which is like the week before everyone else got there. And, my parents left, I walked up to my dorm room. I took out a bunch of makeup that I had secretly bought myself. I put on a face of makeup, walked out of my dorm, walked to the dining hall for my first dinner as a student, and from that moment on, I was Arielle. You know, I started introducing myself as me, and never really looked back.     

But that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy to heal from what happened at Carlbrook.

Arielle Rebekah: But it was weird, because of the experiences I had been through at Carlbrook, it was another year before I really believed myself. Like during, during that first year, there were many times where I was like, Oh my god, what did I get myself into? And I mean, the self-doubt ran even deeper than I had realized. Because, even though I had, I had understood who I was for such a long time, what I had been through really affected my relationship to myself, affected my relationship to trusting myself.  

What happened to Arielle is sadly, not unique. Around 700,000 people in the US have been subjected to conversion therapy. And queer people who endure the practice are ten times more likely to commit suicide. That’s because it’s traumatic abuse that has no scientific backing. Even though the practice was deemed ineffective and harmful fifty years ago by psychologists and psychiatrists, it’s far from gone. It happens in settings like Carlbrook. It continues under names like “gender counseling” or “reintegrative therapy” and in religious camps and ministries. 

So, if conversion therapy doesn’t work, then why is it still happening? Well, many evangelical Christians still hold onto this idea that queer people can be changed. And the fact that these practices are still widespread is actually thanks to one man who made it his mission.  

James Dobson: “There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation in regard to homosexuality and I admit to you, all the answers are not in.

Homosexuality was effectively removed from the list of psychological disorders in the 1970’s. One psychologist though, James Dobson, was mortified by this change. And he made it his personal crusade to rewind all of this progress. That’s why he founded a group called Focus on the Family. 

You might remember James Dobson from our last season. He rose to national prominence as a commentator on child and family issues in the 1980’s. Here he is answering questions from a live studio audience of parents. It’s just one of many, many TV specials produced by Focus on the Family.

James Dobson: “There are many people that feel that it is largely genetic, that a child is born with it. There are other people that feel that it results from a peaking of testosterone – the male hormone – at about three months of age which fixes the brain as masculine or feminine. The only answer that I would have to that is that if it were merely genetic, or something that was going to occur routinely, then it wouldn’t vary in incidence from society to society. You wouldn’t have what I would consider to be epidemics, as I believe we are experiencing at this time.”

Dobson felt the need for Evangelicals to respond with a cure. And for him, the response had to be as big as the disease. So Dobson starting building a multi-billion dollar empire to fight against homosexuality and queerness.

In addition to Focus on the Family, Dobson founded the Family Research Council. It takes the goals of Focus on the Family and translates them into policies that are pushed by politicians all across the country at every level. It’s been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center actually, and is one of the essential pieces of the anti-trans hate machine. 

But Dobson didn’t stop there in his campaign against sexual orientation and gender identity. He added a third prong to his pitchfork.

In 1988, Dobson also created a group called Love Won Out. The point was to elevate people who said they were ex-gay and ex-lesbian as part of a ministry to spread the idea that queerness was a choice, and could be changed. And they were keen to put people in front of the media. 

Melissa Fryrear: “We offer help to families who have a loved one living homosexually, and we offer hope to people who are living homosexually who may be dissatisfied or in conflict with their faith.”

News Anchor: “For Melissa Fryrear, this billboard represents the truth. Melissa says she used to be gay, but Christianity changed her same-sex lifestyle, something she’ll talk about at the conference.” 

A major piece of Dobson’s strategy was appealing to secular audiences too. He used his credentials as a licensed psychologist to spread pseudoscience and junk psychology.

James Dobson: “We want to talk about the prevention and treatment of homosexuality in boys. What a very, very important topic.”

VOT: Here he is in 2011, hosting an event called “Bringing Up Boys.” It’s yet another program brought to you by Focus on the Family. Dobson lays out his classic pseudoscientific spiel: that queerness is a social contagion fueled by the mainstream media.

James Dobson: “Now, part of this agenda, because that’s what it is, has been to teach us that homosexuality is genetic, and the media has worked really hard to convince us of that. And it started about 1990. 

At the event, Dobson holds up two Newsweek covers, reading them aloud. One of them is called “The Future of Gay America” and the other headline reads “Is This Child Gay? Born or Bred? The Origins of Homosexuality.”

James Dobson: “So they’re starting to hack away at the belief that homosexuality is environmental in nature and in its origin.”

And that’s the threat for Dobson. If homosexuality is natural, is intrinsic to who people are, then it could be accepted. The only answer then is to say that it is made up. That’s where the ex-gay movement comes in. 

James Dobson: “The truth of the matter is there are tens of thousands of people who have come out of homosexuality, and they’re all over. There are more than a thousand who are being treated at any given time for homosexuality. There are deeply rooted factors that account for this, and they are tough to whip, they’re really tough. And it’s a whole lot better to do it early, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.”

From the 1970’s until the time he stepped down in 2009, Dobson was creating the infrastructure to spread misinformation about queer people. And his influence still looms large. Even today, Focus on the Family maintains a Christian Counseling network. They claim to have referred more than 300,000 people to therapists, who are required to agree to its policy on “counseling for sexual identity concerns.” 

But there is an even darker and sadder part of the way that Dobson moved during the height of his power.  It is the way that he exploited fear and death behind an air of concern. 

Ev Schlatter: Dobson managed to build this empire because he sounds like your grandpa and he sounds like this, this guy that has all the folksy wisdom.

Ev Schlatter has been a leading researcher of right-wing hate for more than 40 years. She began studying the Christian Nationalist movement in grad school at the same time that Dobson emerged on the scene, so she’s been keeping tabs on him from the beginning. And since then, she’s done deep investigative work for leading nonprofits and important academic research on this movement.  Ev says that when she began looking into all of this in the 1980’s, Dobson and his allies were weaponizing the AIDS crisis.

Ev Schlatter: They had a ready-made target very visible and dealing with a terrible, horrible disease that was literally ravaging a lot of the gay community at that time. 

Ev saw firsthand how leaders of the anti-gay hate movement used the HIV/AIDS epidemic to spread fear and disinformation, painting queer people as dangerous and self-destructive.

Ev Schlatter: So you saw sort of like this feeding off each other to kind of like combat the LGBTQ quote unquote agenda, but also to sort of try to offer something to them to get them out of the LGBTQ movement. And that was conversion therapy. 

Ev saw that a key part of the strategy was offering a false hope to people. Giving them a way to leave the tragedy and trauma behind by no longer being gay. Ev says that is how Dobson and his allies worked hard to build up the ex-gay movement. 

Ev Schlatter: They had certain people who became like poster children, if you will, for the ex-gay movement. 

We found one of those poster children: Yvette Cantu Schneider. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: During that time, it was so scary. I lost 17 friends to AIDS. And I started then to look, like I need some mooring here. 

Yvette was one of the major public figures who told the nation that gay people could renounce their queerness and same-sex attraction during the 1990’s. This was a foundational idea of conversion therapy. At the start, she was seduced by promises from the ex-gay movement. One of those promises: that she could leave her own gay life behind after AIDS ravaged her community.

Yvette Cantu Schneider: I felt unmoored. I need spirituality. I needed to understand what was happening. And that’s when I started going to church. So I was 27 years old when I became a born-again Christian. 

Imara Jones: And you turned to the, is this a Protestant evangelical church that you went to? 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: Yeah. So, yeah. So this was a spirit-filled charismatic, speak in tongues type of church, one I had never seen before, but that a friend of mine went to. And I just, I fell in love with it right away in terms of how I felt the presence of God. 

Her friend promised that this church wasn’t anti-gay, but over time, it became real clear that that wasn’t true. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: The pastor’s wife took me aside and said, The other day when we were praying, we saw a spirit of homosexuality on you and we need to cast it out. So she and this other woman cast out the spirit of homosexuality and filled me with purity and then told me that I was under quarantine, that I couldn’t talk to anyone. None of my friends, not even my roommates, of which I had seven. All I could do was go to work, come home, read my Bible and pray. 

Yvette was trying to do what she thought was right: pushing down her same-sex attraction. More and more, leaders started calling on her to talk publicly about her move away from the so-called gay lifestyle. When she was asked to speak as a part of a Christian leadership week in a suburb of LA, she said yes. Essentially, it was a series of gatherings in private homes, where a speaker would share a story about an act of God in their life. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: And people would have guests that would speak about whatever their experiences were that God had done in their lives, of curing them of cancer, curing them of alcoholism, all sorts of things. And they wanted me to come and talk about how I wasn’t a lesbian anymore. And so I did. This was the first time I did a big presentation. It was an hour long and there was a woman sitting in the front row and afterwards she said, Would you consider relocating to Washington, D.C.? And I thought, Who is this woman? Why would I relocate to Washington, D.C.? What is she talking about? Well, it ended up that she was on the board of Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. So the next week she had me come to her house, do the presentation again. She recorded it, sent it off to FRC, and a few weeks later I was in D.C. interviewing for a job.

For the Family Research Council, Yvette was the ideal ex-gay spokesperson, a perfect addition to James Dobson’s strategy to erase queer people. And they were methodical about how they used her.

Imara Jones: So when they offered you the job, what did they say? 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: We’re interested in hiring you because, number one, you’re a woman. And when we look at the men who call themselves ex-gay, they don’t seem ex-gay. They still seem very effeminate and they don’t come across as straight, whereas you come across as straight. You have a Hispanic last name since your dad was Mexican, so we have the element of color. You present well, you speak well, and so we’re interested in hiring you. 

Yvette headed to D.C. without really stopping to consider how she was being used. She became the face of the Family Research Council, and the face of a burgeoning conservative movement. 

For the next couple of years, you could catch Yvette on TV telling the story of how her gay lifestyle had lead her astray. Some clips of her speaking were recently featured in the Netflix documentary, called “Pray Away”.

Yvette Cantu Schneider [ARCHIVAL]: I personally came out of the homosexual lifestyle that I was in for six years. I have 15 dead gay male friends who have died of AIDS. My point in all this is to show that it is a dangerous, destructive lifestyle. 

Yvette says the movement was intent on lifting her up as a figurehead and making people believe that queerness was “environmental,” a key part of their strategy to argue that gay people shouldn’t be legally entitled to civil rights.   

Yvette Cantu Schneider: Because in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, one of the characteristics to be considered for special minority status was an immutable characteristic. So if people are born gay and stay gay, then they’d qualify as a special minority. If they could change, then they wouldn’t. So that was always the argument when fighting against any sort of legislation. Like this is, you know, LGBTQ people can’t be considered special minorities because they can change. 

So, to convince the public that homosexuality was a choice, Yvette and her colleagues avoided making explicit religious arguments for conversion therapy in public. Strategists at the Family Research Council and broader far right movement knew that those arguments wouldn’t hold with an increasingly nonreligious public. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: Say, if we went on a news show, you know, then it would just be about whatever facts we could find to fit our narrative and try to keep God out of it as much as possible, even though that’s what was motivating us. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider [Archival]: What I do at Family Research Council is opposing an aggressive homosexual agenda, which is trying to destroy marriage, which is trying to bring about gay adoption. A child needs a mother and a father. 

Eventually Yvette got married and had kids. And according to the norms of the Evangelical, Christian Nationalist movement, mothers had to be at home unless they were in ministry.

So Yvette left the Family Research Council and began working for Exodus International, a powerful and influential network of ex-gay ministries. Dobson’s Love Won Out actually became part of Exodus. Yvette joined the organization as First Head of Women’s Ministries, essentially a counselor to Christian leaders who were struggling with their sexuality.  

And it’s here, working with ex-gay Christian leaders — hundreds of people — that she noticed something crucial. No one was actually changing. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: The party line was that if someone wasn’t changing, they weren’t praying hard enough. They didn’t love God enough. They weren’t reading their Bible enough. There was something wrong with them that they weren’t changing. And now I’m realizing, Hey, I know these people, they’re dedicated and they’re not changing. So there’s a serious problem. And I had that rift within myself. Now what am I going to do? Like, do I say something? Do I leave? 

 So she finally did leave, and renounced her work in the ex-gay movement. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: I feel shame. I feel guilt. I feel embarrassment that I got sucked in so far. Because I consider myself an intelligent person and I wonder what weakness in me allowed for this to happen. How did I get sucked in so completely? What was I trying to prove? Did I need that much approval from others in order to feel good about myself? All those thoughts go through. I’ve tried to figure it out so many times. And it was just that appeal of being part of a group, that I had a purpose in life, that I was going to achieve. And I know that’s what fueled me. And it definitely brings on shame, thinking that I sort of denied not only my authenticity, but my humanity in a sense. Just to basically please others. And I thought I was pleasing God, but I’m also pleasing a God that others have defined for me. So it really was just about pleasing others. And it’s really hard to say, like I’m struggling here to say that. I mean, Imara, I wish it wasn’t true. I wish I weren’t here talking about this. I wish it hadn’t happened. 

Imara Jones: But you know, a part of Christianity is grace. And grace is not only something that is extended to other people, it is something that we have to extend to ourselves. And so you have to extend that grace to yourself. And believe that that grace is there for you, too. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: But how can you say that to me when some of the work I’ve done has damaged you, the people you love? 

Imara Jones: Because you get to be human. You know, you get to make mistakes. And it is also very clear to me that you were deeply manipulated. There were people that took advantage of your incredible trauma. An incredible trauma of losing almost two dozen people. 

Yvette Cantu Schneider: Yeah. 

Yvette slowly unwound her affiliation with Exodus.  But she wasn’t alone in her doubt and shame. 

Exodus International’s President, Alan Chambers, renounced conversion therapy and acknowledged the harm that his organization had done in 2013. Here he is on Anderson Cooper 360:  

Anderson Cooper: Do you believe that the teachings of Exodus are responsible for peoples’ deaths?

Alan Chambers: when we have told them that they should feel ashamed or that they should try to change these things that we have realized we cannot change, I believe that that causes all sorts of trauma. And I know that there are people who have taken their life because they felt so ashamed of who they are, felt like God couldn’t love them as they are, and that’s something that will haunt me until the day I die.

And Yvette and Alan weren’t the only ones. Many of the ex-gay leaders turned their back on conversion therapy and started speaking out. There began to be a growing pushback against these practices. 

This increasing resistance to trying to change queer people crystalized around the highly publicized death of Ohio teenager Leelah Alcorn in 2014. After coming out as trans to her parents, Leelah was placed in conversion therapy, according to a suicide note she posted online.

News Anchor: Leelah’s parents have declined to speak with reporters. Before her death she posted how her mother and father wanted her to be a quote “perfect little straight Christian boy.”  

In response to Alcorn’s death, advocates against conversion therapy organized a petition, urging the Obama administration to ban it. These groups knew that the administration had a program where they responded to petitions that received over 100,000 signatures and this one got enough support in less than a month.

This groundswell of outrage against conversion therapy led the Obama Administration to find out what was going on with this practice in America. 

Here’s Valerie Jarett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, and one of his closest confidantes. 

Valerie Jarett: Well we certainly consulted with the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services. And what became very readily apparent as I looked at the body of research, is not only, not only does that therapy not work, but it has a long-term traumatic impact on the people who are subject to it. And that that impact was even exacerbated more so when the people were youngsters. 

And so the White House decided to respond to the petition in the form of a letter signed by a senior member of the White House staff, which was unprecedented. Jarett was that official.

Valerie Jarett: And so I reviewed multiple drafts of the letter before I felt comfortable that it really embodied the message that I wanted to send. I showed it to the president to make sure he was comfortable with every word I had chosen as well. But I just thought if one young person reads this letter and feels seen and heard and loved and valued, then it’s worth it. And then I signed the letter, and I thought, today was a good day.

While a piece of paper on White House stationery may not seem like a lot, what it actually represents is a totally different set of choices by adults in power. Throughout the story of conversion therapy, we have seen the powerful scour every angle for the best way to manipulate queer people and hurt trans youth. But here in the middle of this madness, we have a different set of grown-ups making a different choice. And it shows where we could actually be if people center the humanity of trans people above all else. Here’s Jarett again:

Valerie Jarett: As I mentioned at the onset, I also oversaw the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and we work closely with local and state elected officials. So we heard from many of them who saw the letter. What they basically said is, it’s the power of the bully pulpit. It was an issue that just wasn’t front and center for them until the President of the United States and the White House says, This is an important issue. And you know, tone starts at the top.

And now a total of 20 states now have conversion therapy bans on the books thanks in part to the White House deciding to say something on behalf of queer kids.

Efforts to ban conversion therapy picked up steam after the Obama Administration put its weight behind them. But these bans have managed to stop only about a third of conversion therapy. 

So, conversion therapy remains widespread and is fundamental to implementing the Christian Nationalist vision of America.

Emerson Hodges is a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization which tracks hate groups. He talked to me about the link between conversion therapy, white supremacy, and the future these groups are trying to build. 

Emerson Hodges: Conversion therapy is about maintaining the binary, which is very important to white supremacy. It’s a huge part of white nationalism is masculinity and femininity having their roles strictly defined because white nationalism and Christian Nationalism are deeply authoritarian movements. Conversion therapy is a means of control to keep that system in place, to continue to benefit the power structure. And that’s why it’s so dangerous. Because it’s couched in family rhetoric. But at the end of the day, it only protects the people that benefit. Everyone else either needs to become somebody else, or you’re an outsider, you’re cast out. And conversion therapy is the ultimate means to continue that structure of white Christian Nationalism. 

So while the Christian Nationalist movement is working to bring about this dark vision, trans people who were harmed and used by the right, are fighting back. They’re pulling back the curtain on a more recent effort by conservatives to take everything they’ve learned from the conversion therapy movement and focus it all on the trans community. That’s next time on The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality.

Ky Schevers: We both are kind of trying to like turn our experiences into something positive and take what we learned, what worked and what didn’t, and do what we can to sound the alarm about like different groups that are trying to pass themselves off as caretakers or resources, but actually aren’t, actually are, you know, promoting conversion therapy or, you know, some kind of ex-trans subculture or something like that. 

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First, you can help us by spreading the word about the Anti-Trans Hate Machine and how it works by telling your friends about the show and joining the conversation by using hashtag #AntiTransHateMachine on social media.

I would also be so grateful if you donated to TransLash Media so that we can continue our fearless reporting taking on this behemoth and investigating the way that this hate movement spreads. You can do so at


The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality is hosted and executive produced by Imara Jones. Oliver Ash Kleine is our senior producer and Nicole Kelly is our editor. Our producers include Josephine Jaye McAuliffe, Ann Marie Awad, and Mara Lazer. Our associate producers are Vera B., Wren Farrell, R. Robinson, Nicole Richards, and Tiler Wilson. Fact-checking for this season comes from Steven Crighton. This series is sound designed by Xander Adams. Zak Lanius helped with audio production. Our social media team includes Daniela “Dani” Capistrano, head of Digital Strategy, as well as Brennen Beckwith, our social media producer. 

Help spread the word about #AntiTransHateMachine by accessing our Season 2 social media toolkit.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.



TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.


Coming Soon

The Glow UP

At TransLash, change is constant. We embrace our own process of collective transformation, and we honor every step of the journey. We’re getting ready to celebrate a pivotal point in our story, and we’re inviting you to be a part of it! 

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We’ve been working behind the scenes to launch a new brand for TransLash—one that honors our roots, reflects our growth, and leaves room for what’s to come. Over the next few months, you’ll notice fresh visuals and content as we bring our “glow up” to life across our digital channels. This summer, we’ll celebrate the culmination of that work: our brand new website! We’re building a new home for the journalism you love and trust, grounded in our deep commitment to the trans community.

We’re stepping into our own transition, and we want to share it with you. Join us!

Be the first to know when we launch the new site!


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