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American College of Pediatricians

The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a fringe anti-LGBTQ hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBTQ junk science, primarily via far-right conservative media and filing amicus briefs in cases related to gay adoption and marriage equality.​

ACPeds opposes adoption by LGBTQ couples, links homosexuality to pedophilia, endorses so-called reparative or sexual orientation conversion therapy for homosexual youth, believes transgender people have a mental illness and has called transgender health care for youth child abuse.

In its own words

“Your public library may have a drag queen story hour where books like I am Jazz are read to children by trans activists eager to groom the next generation of victims.”— Andre Van Mol, co-chair of ACPeds’ Committee on Adolescent Sexuality, “Reinforcing Children’s Sexual Identity: A Review of Ellie Klipp’s ‘I Don’t Have to Choose,’ Aug. 27, 2019

“The transgender movement is an opening for a totalitarian government.” — Michelle Cretella, ACPeds executive director, speaking at Illinois Family Institute Worldview Conference, Oct. 2019

“Transgenderism is a belief system that increasingly looks like a cultish religion – a modern day Gnosticism denying physical reality for deceived perceptions – being forced on the public by the state in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.” — Andre Van Mol, co-chair of ACPeds’ Committee on Adolescent Sexuality, in Transgenderism: A State-Sponsored Religion?” Jan. 24, 2018

“Homosexual men and women are reported to be promiscuous, with serial sex partners, even within what are loosely-termed “committed relationships. Individuals who practice a homosexual lifestyle are more likely than heterosexuals to experience mental illness, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and shortened life spans.”
—“Homosexual Parenting: Is It Time for A Change?” updated July 2017, available on ACPeds website

“Driving in this morning I began to wonder. Why isn’t the movement of LGBT not the PLGBT movement: ‘P’ for pedophile? ...In one sense, it could be argued that the LGBT movement is only tangentially associated with pedophilia. I see that argument, but the pushers of the movement, the activists, I think have pedophilia intrinsically woven into their agenda. It is they who need to be spoken to and against.”
—Blog post on ACPeds website, July 15, 2015

"I truly believe that when we are practicing a sexual act that goes against our natural design, it’s going to be very harmful to us emotionally, physically and, in the situation with AIDS, even infectious consequences will occur.”
—Former ACPeds President Den Trumbull on VCY America’s “Crosstalk,” May 2015

“[T]here is sound evidence that children exposed to the homosexual lifestyle may be at increased risk for emotional, mental, and even physical harm.”
—“Homosexual Parenting: Is It Time For Change?” ACPeds article, January 22, 2004

“For unwanted sexual attractions, therapy to restore heterosexual attraction has proven effective and harmless.”
—Facts About Youth website, 2010

“Gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are not born that way. The most recent, extensive, and scientifically sound research finds that the primary factor in the development of homosexuality is environmental not genetic.”
—Facts About Youth website, 2010

“School officials are being increasingly pressured by pro-homosexual organizations to integrate homosexual education into school curricula. These organizations recommend promoting homosexuality as a normal, immutable trait that should be validated during childhood, as early as kindergarten. These organizations also condemn all efforts to provide treatment to gender confused students, advocating instead the creation of student groups that affirm homosexual attractions and behaviors.”
—Facts About Youth website, 2010

“In dealing with adolescents experiencing same-sex attraction, it is essential to understand there is no scientific evidence that an individual is born ‘gay’ or ‘transgender.’”
—ACPEds letter to 14,800 school superintendents, March 31, 2010

“Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.”
—“Gender Ideology Harms Children,” ACPeds article, March 2016

“We at the American College of Pediatricians, and also I have many colleagues on the left, also insist that those solutions be rooted in reality, and transgender ideology is not. Sex is hard-wired from before birth, and it cannot change. And that's why we had actually called this child abuse, because by feeding children and families these lies, children are having their normal psychological development interrupted… Our job as parents and physicians is to help children embrace their healthy bodies. And when this is done, once they get past puberty into late adolescence, as many as 95 percent will come to embrace their bodies and identify with their biological sex.”
—Michelle Cretella, former president of ACPeds, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” July 24, 2017
(Cretella became ACPeds’ first executive director in 2018)

Background

Though it sounds official, ACPeds is not the leading organization for U.S. pediatricians; That designation goes to the 67,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). ACPeds was founded in 2002 when a small number of socially conservative AAP members broke away from AAP after it endorsed adoption by same-sex couples. ACPeds subsequently issued its own report stating that gay parenting puts children’s health and development at high risk.

ACPeds supports “reparative” or sexual orientation conversion therapy (also known as “ex-gay” therapy) for LGBTQ juveniles, advances the debunked theory that being LGBTQ can be “cured” through therapy and has encouraged the practice in communication with schools nationwide. ACPeds has also called being transgender a mental illness, and opposes families’ support of their transgender children, calling such support “child abuse.” Though membership is believed to be just a few hundred, ACPeds spreads its falsehoods by acting as a go-to authority for far-right media outlets such as Breitbart and the Daily Caller, and right-wing Christian publications and websites.

In 2002, AAP released a policy statement in support of second-parent adoptions by same-sex parents. Its newsletter stated, “Pediatricians should support the legal adoption of children by co-parents or second parents because it provides permanency and stability to children of gay and lesbian parents.” In response, approximately 60 of the AAP’s 60,000 members broke off, forming ACPeds.

ACPeds’ founder, Dr. Joseph Zanga, described it as a “Judeo-Christian, traditional values” organization, “open to pediatric medical professionals of all religions who hold true to the group’s core beliefs: that life begins at conception; and that the traditional family unit, headed by an opposite-sex couple, poses far fewer risk factors in the adoption and raising of children.”

ACPeds claims more than 500 members, though its former president, Dr. Michelle Cretella (she became executive director in 2018), wouldn’t answer a direct question about its membership numbers in 2016. In 2012, ACPeds was estimated to have no more than 200 members. AAP currently has more than 67,000 members.

Yet ACPeds has continued to be a far-right media favorite and prominent voice in anti-LGBT circles. On the July 24, 2017 episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, then-ACPeds president Cretella continued her attack on “transgender ideology.” “Sex is hard-wired from before birth, and it cannot change,” Cretella said. “And that’s why we have actually called this child abuse, because by feeding children and families these lies, children are having their normal psychological development interrupted … This is child abuse. It’s not health care.”

She also made misleading and false claims about hormone treatments for transgender children and adolescents in the 2017 appearance, claiming that 95% of transgender children will eventually “embrace” their “biological sex” as long as they are forced to reject their trans identity.

The so-called “desistance” myth (whose numbers range from 80-95%) has been promoted for years by anti-trans groups and individuals, and derives from a 1995 study of 45 gender nonconforming children that conflated children who exhibited gender nonconforming behaviors with children who insisted they are a different gender; that is, transgender children. Most of the children who desisted were never transgender to begin with.

ACPeds responded to AAP’s endorsement of adoption by gay couples with its own policy statement in January 2004 (re-posted in July 2017), titled “Homosexual Parenting: Is It Time For Change?” Among its false claims: “research has demonstrated considerable risks to children exposed to the homosexual lifestyle. Violence between same-sex partners is two to three times more common than among married heterosexual couples;” “[h]omosexual men and women are reported to be promiscuous, with serial sex partners, even within what are loosely-termed ‘committed relationships;’” and to excuse its bunk science, “[a]lthough some would claim that these dysfunctions are a result of societal pressures in America, the same dysfunctions exist at inordinately high levels among homosexuals in cultures where the practice is more widely accepted.”

The statement concludes, “Given the current body of evidence, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on same-sex parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or reproductive manipulation.”

In 2008, AAP, along with 12 other leading national organizations including the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers, released a pamphlet titled “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth.” Distributed to school administrators nationwide, the pamphlet declared, “The idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among any mainstream health and mental health professional organizations.” It also warned against efforts to change sexual orientation through reparative or conversion therapy, stating, “such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure,” and clearly specifying that “homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be ‘cured.’”

In response, ACPeds joined with the reparative therapy organization the National for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH, now the NARTH Institute, which was folded into the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice) to attack “Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth,” calling it “biased and grossly misleading,” and published an online rebuttal called “Facts About Youth” in 2010.

“Facts About Youth” contains a slew of false assertions, among them that “[h]omosexual attraction of young students is usually temporary (if not encouraged) and may be unwanted,” “[t]he homosexual lifestyle carries grave health risks, especially for males,” and “[f]or unwanted sexual attractions, therapy to restore heterosexual attraction has proven effective and harmless.”

“Facts About Youth” also includes a page called “Health Risks of the Homosexual Lifestyle” which links LGBTQ people to disease and uses a legitimate Canadian study conducted in 1996 to claim that being LGBTQ shortens lifespans. The authors of that study blasted anti-LGBTQ groups for distorting their data, stating that “… it appears that our research is being used by select groups in US and Finland to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others. These homophobic groups appear more interested in restricting the human rights” of LGBTQ people “rather than promoting their health and wellbeing.”

The aim of their research, the paper’s writers stated, “was to assist health planners with the means of estimating the impact of HIV infection on groups, like gay and bisexual men, not necessarily captured by vital statistics data and not to hinder the rights of these groups worldwide.” The writers concluded that they do not condone the use of their work in a manner that restricts political and human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group.

On March 31, 2010 ACPeds sent a letter to 14,800 school superintendents across the country endorsing reparative therapy and directing school administrators to its “Facts About Youth” website.

One of the names on the masthead of the ACPeds letter endorsing sexual orientation conversion therapy was George Rekers. Rekers was a married Baptist minister and clinical psychologist who vocally advocated “curing” homosexuality. Just two weeks after the ACPeds letter was distributed, Reker was caught returning from a European vacation with a 20-year-old male escort he’d met on Rentboy.com.

The genuine leading pediatrics association, the AAP, issued a statement saying ACPeds’ Facts About Youth “campaign does not acknowledge the scientific and medical evidence regarding sexual orientation, sexual identity, sexual health, or effective health education.”

Indeed, several medical sources cited prominently by ACPeds to support “Facts About Youth” immediately rebutted ACPeds’ assertions. Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institute of Health, wrote, “The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents.”

Dr. Gary Remafedi, a University of Minnesota researcher also cited by ACPeds to support “Facts About Youth,” strenuously objected to the misrepresentation of his research, demanding a retraction.

Dr. Remafedi wrote to ACPeds, “this episode is especially troubling and egregious because it is led by colleagues within my own profession, who certainly have the ability, education, and experience to access, review, and accurately summarize the Pediatric scientific literature.” He continued, “Implicating me in this chicanery is doubly damaging to my professional reputation and career by holding me accountable for misstatements and by associating me with a cause that most ethical Pediatricians will recognize as misguided and hurtful to an entire class of children and families.”

Therapist Warren Throckmorton, who specializes in sexual orientation issues, was also cited by ACPeds. “The [ACPeds] letter and [Facts About Youth] website are just disingenuous,” Throckmorton told City Pages. “They say they’re impartial and not motivated by political or religious concerns, but if you look at who they’re affiliated with and how they’re using the research, that’s just obviously not true.”

While ACPeds may sound sufficiently marginalized within the medical and mental health professional communities, that hasn’t stopped the far-right from using its debunked pseudo-science to back anti-LGBTQ agendas.

In a debate between the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok on the November 30, 2010 edition of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” Perkins said, “If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children.”

Evangelical anti-LGBTQ extremist and pseudo-historian David Barton cited ACPeds on his WallBuilders Live radio program in August 2011, falsely calling it “the leading pediatric association in America,” to claim schools are using “indoctrination” to make students LGBTQ. “If you’ll just let this develop naturally, they’ll end up being heterosexual unless you force them to be homosexual,” Barton paraphrased ACPeds.

In June 2013, the conservative Washington Times quoted then-president of ACPeds Den Trumbull’s continued endorsement of reparative therapy for LGBTQ teens: “‘Spontaneous and assisted change is possible,’ and if a teen’s sexual-orientation confusion is not encouraged or validated, in the vast majority of cases, he or she ‘will return to heterosexual orientation,’ said Dr. Trumbull, who has a pediatrics practice in Alabama.”

In May 2015, Trumbull appeared on VCY America’s “Crosstalk” program, where he disparaged preventative methods of arresting the spread of HIV, saying, “yet the push is more to find a vaccine, to use condoms, to — but I truly believe that when we are practicing a sexual act that goes against our natural design, it’s going to be very harmful to us emotionally, physically and, in the situation with AIDS, even infectious consequences will occur.”

Later in 2015, then-president of ACPeds, Dr. Michelle Cretella, decried the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, calling it “a tragic day for America’s children,” which was touted by Breitbart.

ACPeds also engages in court cases and files amicus briefs often filled with pseudoscientific claims and research. For example, it filed an amicus brief with the Alabama Supreme Court on November 6, 2015, urging the state court to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States. The brief cited discredited anti-LGBTQ research while attacking legitimate research by professional organizations like the American Psychological Association.

In March 2016 (updated in September 2017), ACPeds published an anti-transgender position statement titled “ Gender Ideology Harms Children,” falsely alleging that gender dysphoria “is a recognized mental disorder” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). The statement called it “abusive” to support gender dysphoric children, and using twisted statistics alleged that “as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.”

Far-right conservative media outlets and commentators including Glenn Beck, the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Daily Caller and Breitbart parroted ACPeds' false claim that being transgender is a mental illness and “gender ideology” is child abuse.

Meanwhile, the legitimate leading association of pediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatricians, joined the Human Rights Campaign along with other leading mental health and educational organizations in April 2016 to issue a statement opposing “needless and mean-spirited legislation” targeting transgender students.

Still, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry felt comfortable citing “the American Pediatrics” (he got ACPeds’ name wrong), stating “transgender identity is a mental illness” on the Family Research Council’s “Washington Watch” radio program in May 2016.

The magazine Psychology Today’s website called out ACPeds in May 2017, quoting Dr. Scott Leibowitz, medical director of the THRIVE program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and chair of the sexual orientation and gender identity issues committee for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Leibowitz said of ACPeds, “It can hardly be a credible medical organization when it consistently chooses to ignore science and the growing evidence base that clearly demonstrates the benefits of affirmative care with LGBT youth across all ages.”

Dr. Jack Turban, the author of the Psychology Today article, concluded, “I urge news organizations and individuals to stop propagating these false claims from the ACP. The health of LGBT youth depends on it.”

Yet ACPeds continues to be a far-right media favorite and prominent voice in anti-LGBTQ circles. On the July 24, 2017 episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, ACPeds then-president Cretella continued her attack on “transgender ideology.” “Sex is hard-wired from before birth, and it cannot change,” Cretella said. “And that’s why we have actually called this child abuse, because by feeding children and families these lies, children are having their normal psychological development interrupted … This is child abuse. It’s not health care.”

Additionally, Cretella was the keynote speaker at the reparative therapy organization NARTH Institute’s training institute in October 2017, and presented an anti-transgender session at the Minnesota Catholic Conference in December 2017. Cretella served as a board member (2010-2015) for NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), which changed its name to NARTH Institute in 2014.

In an anti-trans Daily Signal piece posted in July 2017, Cretella claimed that medial professionals are “using the myth that people are born transgender to justify engaging in massive, uncontrolled, and unconsented experimentation on children” who, she further claimed, “have a psychological condition that would otherwise resolve after puberty in the vast majority of cases.”

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine issued a point-by-point rebuttal of Cretella’s July 2017 Daily Signal claims, noting that her post is “littered with correlation without causation references.” One cannot claim to be an unbiased medical professional writing for the greater good, SAHM states, “when one’s entire article is predicated upon gender dysphoria as a choice.”

Nevertheless, ACPeds continues to falsely claim that gender-affirming care for transgender children somehow “harms” children, and also falsely claims that the medical establishment is forcing transgender children to undergo transition surgeries.

In reality, gender-affirming care for youth involves following developmentally appropriate established guidelines put out by the Endocrine Society, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and American Academy of Pediatrics to ensure the safety and well-being transgender youth and adults.

The rise of anti-trans sentiment among anti-LGBTQ groups has fueled a cottage industry of anti-trans research that in turn is promoted by anti-LGBTQ groups, including ACPeds, which has become a go-to for expertise in anti-trans pseudoscience.

One such study ACPeds has promoted is one published in August 2018 that makes unfounded claims about so-called “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” which posits that gender dysphoria seemingly appears abruptly during or after puberty as a result of peer pressure or “social contagion.” That is, youth are “pressured” into being trans and can therefore “change” into not being trans.

The study, by Brown University researcher Lisa Littman, appeared in August 2018 in the pay-to-publish journal PLOS ONE that dealt with what she called “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), which is promoted on anti-trans message boards.

Littman’s dubious data collection focused on a questionnaire to parents who frequented anti-trans websites and did not involve any trans-identified youth or controls. Also, she did not account for how using anti-trans subjects might skew her data, nor did she question the parents’ claims. Her study’s flawed methodology and conclusions were immediately critiqued, and Brown University ceased disseminating it via news distribution the same month it was published.

PLOS ONE conducted a post-publication reassessment of the piece, and in March 2019 announced revisions to it that ostensibly address the concerns that were raised.

Regardless, anti-LGBTQ media circulated the study widely, and ACPeds’ Cretella touted the study at the 2018 Values Voter gathering (sponsored by anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council). The ACPeds website also promotes anti-trans parenting sites as “resources,” including Kelsey Coalition and Parents of ROGD Kids. The Kelsey Coalition, which offers little to no information about permanent staff, incorporation or tax status, solicits anonymous anti-trans personal testimonies from parents and advocates against protections from conversion therapy for trans youth.

The ROGD Parents site, like Kelsey Coalition, offers little information about who they are and claims that transgender youth are merely “confused” and have been somehow talked into being trans and wanting to transition because of social media and peers. The site also attempts to link gender dysphoria to several things including borderline personality disorder, autism, Munchausen Syndrome, and being bullied for “being too butch.”

The ACPeds site also warns parents to “Avoid ‘Gender therapists,’ ‘Gender-Affirming’ therapists, ‘LGBT-affirming’ therapists, and ‘Gender clinics’” because, according to ACPeds, “These are all titles of therapists who seek to validate and affirm your child’s gender disturbance as normal.”

In September 2018, Joseph Zanga, an ACPeds founder and past president (also a past president of AAP), wrote an opinion piece in the Bulletin of the Muscogee County Medical Society (Columbus, Georgia) that ACPeds promoted on its website.

Zanga seems to claim that children are forced to be transgender by their parents: “But children’s brains are plastic and can be molded by experience, by parents dressing them as the opposite sex, calling them an opposite sex name, and insisting that all others do the same.” Children thus become, Zanga continued, “the sex others create for them,” and claims that children are “incapable of making those decisions.” In the op-ed, Zanga referenced the desistance myth, claiming that the “condition” usually “cures itself” by late adolescence.

In March 2019, ACPeds executive director Cretella and anti-trans activist Walt Heyer went to Capitol Hill at the invitation of FRC to address members of Congress about the alleged dangers of the Federal Equality Act, which would include sexual orientation and gender identity in the Civil Rights Act. Heyer claims to have been previously trans but says he was misdiagnosed. Heyer peddles the “transgender regret” myth, which claims that the majority of people who transition end up regretting their decision.

After the Capitol Hill meetings, Cretella participated in two interviews with FRC president Tony Perkins following the introduction of the Equality Act. In those interviews, she discussed meeting with members of Congress and their staffs and referred to being transgender as being in a cult. “Transgender belief is in the mind,” she said the interviews. “It’s a cult that is telling us that children are born with the belief that they are trapped in the wrong body, and it’s simply not true.”

In July of 2019, ACPeds, the  Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the Catholic Medical Association and the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (which supports conversion therapy), sent a letter to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams asking him not to support affirming care for gender dysphoric children. They also asked Adams to issue a warning with regard to medical intervention for gender dysphoric children. The letter claims that health professionals who don’t engage in affirmative care for gender dysphoric children are at risk for discrimination and marginalization.

In October 2019, Cretella spoke at anti-LGBTQ hate group Illinois Family Institute’s Worldview Conference. Her talk was titled “Transgender Ideology: Child Abuse and the Erasure of Human Rights.” In that talk, she claimed that “we are actually manufacturing transgender children in this country and around the world” and pushed a conspiracy theory that the transgender movement “is an opening for a totalitarian government.”

During that conference, she also referred to intersex people as “having birth defects” (being intersex is not considered a defect); touted Littman’s study; and repeated several anti-trans conspiracy theories, including that social media is making children transgender. She claimed falsely that New York City fines people $250,000 for not using someone’s preferred gender pronouns.  

ACPeds president Quentin van Meter, who is based in Atlanta, was quoted in a November 2019 press release from Georgia state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Marietta) regarding her sponsorship of an anti-trans bill that would criminalize gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth. In the release, Van Meter said children need to be protected from “medical experimentation based on wishful social theory.” He added: “These children are suffering from a psychological condition without biologic [sic] basis.”

Van Meter, who is popular on the anti-LGBTQ circuit, touts the discredited practice of conversion therapy in addition to anti-trans pseudoscience. The Ohio Department of Health hired him in early 2020 to serve as an expert witness in a civil rights lawsuit against the state, which is refusing to change the sex on birth certificates of four transgender people. Such a move could put them in danger of being outed as trans.

In addition, Van Meter testified to the Alabama state legislature in early 2020 in favor of legislation that would criminalize gender-affirming healthcare for children. He went on Tony Perkins’ radio show March 5 to discuss his testimony and gender dysphoria. Van Meter referred to the latter as “gender confusion,” a right-wing term used to denigrate transgender people. Van Meter claimed that “gender confusion” is “sort of a cult phenomenon” influenced by “internet access and hysteria.”