American College of Pediatricians

The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a fringe anti-LGBT hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBT 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 LGBT 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

“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, president of ACPeds, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” July 24, 2017

Background

Though it sounds official, the ACPeds is not the leading organization for U.S. pediatricians; that designation goes to the 66,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). ACPeds was founded in 2002 when a small number of socially conservative AAP members broke away from the 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 for homosexual juveniles, the debunked theory that homosexuality 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 like Breitbart and the Daily Caller, and 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 now claims more than 500 members, though its current president, Dr. Michelle Cretella, 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 66,000 members.

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) 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 LGBT people to disease and uses a legitimate Canadian study conducted in 1996 to claim that being LGBT shortens lifespans. The authors of that study blasted anti-LGBT 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 LGBT 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, then 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-LGBT 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-LGBT 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 homosexual. “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 homosexual 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, the current 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-LGBT 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” 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-LGBT circles. On the July 24 episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, 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.”

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 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.”