Category archives: Human Sexuality

#MeToo Ignores an Obvious Source of Sexual Aggression: Porn

by David Krayden

February 19, 2018

Unless you have lived in a cave with no connection to the traditional or social media, it has been impossible to escape the chronic, provocative, and apparently unending reach of the #MeToo campaign. A day rarely goes by in the news cycle when a man, prominent in business, media, or entertainment, is not accused of some level of sexual misconduct, from suggestions of a grope at a party decades ago to the mind-boggling series of allegations that now define the life and career of former Hollywood mega-producer and liberal elite Harvey Weinstein. These revelations rarely, if ever, find their origin in the criminal justice system; the recipients of these charges are rarely formally charged with breaking any law and might never see the interior of a courtroom. 

Nonetheless, he will probably lose his job, his reputation, and perhaps his family in the process—innocent or guilty.

How are we to assess this steady stream of shameful revelations and the #MeToo movement as Christians? Should we be applauding the apparent exposure of these men as acts approaching righteous indignation? Should we be decrying the persistence of a male sexual aggression that clearly defies biblical morality?

I would suggest we should approach the allegations with caution. But we should also examine a pernicious source of sexual misanthropy in our sexually-charged society: the continued explosion of unrelenting pornography from a sordid industry that profits from the dehumanization of both men and women.

But first to the issue of guilt. The #MeToo movement relies almost exclusively on social media gossip. The allegations may well be true, but of course we often will never know for certain because there is no neutral forum to verify the information—the media reports that follow the initial tweets on Twitter or posts on Facebook are generally mere rewrites of the initial reports. Of course a denial of guilt from the accused might be inserted into the story, but what does this really mean when we have become accustomed to ignoring such disclaimers? Careers, reputations, and families are being destroyed in this process of communicating these allegations—careers and lives that may never be fully restored or completely rehabilitated even if the stories eventually are proven to be false.

That being said, the rash of sexual misconduct reports have forced us all to recognize the pervasiveness of sexual aggression in our society, and yet we are apparently no closer to examining, assessing, or condemning an obvious culprit in the proliferation of that sexual aggression: pornography.

So many of the sexual assault scenarios that have been described in the media sound like scenes out of pornographic films, where, of course, this kind of behavior is not defined as assault but normalcy. This is precisely the fundamental problem with porn: it not only over-sexualizes our world, it also attempts to convince us that our world is one where overt sexual aggression is not only tolerated but encouraged. Pornography not only debases both its purveyors and the consumers, it also preaches a sexual narrative that is not only unhealthy but dangerously at odds with reality. When men are seduced into believing the pornographic lie—that the spontaneous expression of any sexual whim is acceptable—they are acting out an illusion that in reality is abusive and in fact often illegal.

Pornography long ago ceased to be mere entertainment—albeit entertainment of the most destructive and base sort. Pornography is a political and philosophical message emitted from the lowest echelons of disordered desires: it tells us to satisfy any sexual craving—no matter how strange, how sick, or how unhealthy—because there will be no consequences. It is a message that is so ubiquitous in this internet age that it is difficult to ignore. Pornographic culture is now invading our popular culture, infecting so much of our television viewing, reading material, and advertising. If we just focus on television, mainstream dramas often include relatively graphic depictions of sexual activity that would have been considered fit only for a “stag” film in decades past. The internet has made pornography far more accessible and more anonymous than it ever was in the magazine and X-rated film age of yesteryear. What’s more, pornographic “values” have now become such a big part of mainstream entertainment and sexual mores that it is no longer something perverts have to seek out—even the morally upright have to guard against being inadvertently exposed to porn from a miss-typed word in a Google search or a graphic sex scene inserted into an otherwise decent movie.

If we are to honestly examine physical sexual abuse in our society, we need to acknowledge the most blatant and obvious form of virtual sexual abuse: unrestricted, unrelenting pornography that dehumanizes men and women and leads to an increase in sexually aggressive behavior.

David Krayden is the Ottawa Bureau Chief for The Daily Caller. He is a former Air Force public affairs officer and communications specialist for the Canadian Parliament.

New York Times Spreads Fake News About Sexual Orientation Therapy

by Peter Sprigg

January 30, 2018

On January 25, 2018, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Sam Brinton under the headline, “Tortured in Gay Conversion Therapy.” (The online version posted January 24 read, “I Was Tortured in Gay Conversion Therapy. And It’s Still Legal in 41 States.”) Brinton frequently speaks and testifies in favor of laws to prohibit licensed therapists from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts (which opponents refer to as “conversion therapy”) with minors. (FRC’s defense of the right to choose such therapy can be found here).

Brinton gives a shocking, first-person account. It includes this:

The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy.

I have just one question for the New York Times. Did you make any effort to fact-check Brinton’s claims?

This is an opinion piece, you might respond. Since it reflects the writer’s opinion, it does not require fact-checking the way a news story does—does it?

The truth is, newspapers fact-check opinion pieces all the time. Various publications and websites routinely ask for links or other documentation for factual claims made in an opinion piece.

Brinton’s piece, though, was a first-person account of his own experience. How can you “fact-check” someone’s personal life experience?

One way might be by checking it against previous accounts that Brinton himself has given of his own story. He has, after all, been sharing these allegations in the public square since 2010. If there are inconsistencies in the way he has described his own experience on different occasions, it might at least raise some doubts about the credibility of the overall account.

Brinton’s Story Unverified

I first wrote about Brinton’s story three and a half years ago on the FRC Blog, in an August 2014 piece titled, “Truth Matters in Ex-Gay Debate.” Part of what follows is an edited version of what I wrote then, with added comments at the end.

Brinton’s story was apparently first captured, when he was a student at Kansas State, in a video interview by Nathan Manske of the “I’m from Driftwood” project, which seeks to create an “archive of stories” on “what it’s like to be LGBTQ throughout the world.” Brinton’s story was captured on video in 2010, but received a burst of attention in October of 2011, when Manske shared it in the Huffington Post. Although the Huffington Post article remains online, a passage I quoted in 2014 does not (the web page says it was “updated” December 6, 2017). However, a detailed recounting of Brinton’s story (along with an edited version of the original video) remains online at the website of The New Civil Rights Movement. That account includes these details:

Physical therapy was my hands being tied down and blocks of ice being placed on my hands. Then pictures of men holding hands would be shown to be so that way I would associate the concept of the pain of the ice with a man touching me.”

Then we went into heat. Coils would be wrapped around my hands and you would be able to turn the heat on or off. So now if we had a picture of a guy and a girl hugging, there was no pain. If we had a picture of a guy and a guy hugging, we had physical pain.”

We then went into the ‘Month of Hell,’” Brinton explains in the video below. “The ‘Month of Hell’ consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I’d be electrocuted.”

This report was so shocking that even some pro-“gay” media tried to verify this report—but couldn’t.

One of the inconsistencies pointed out by commenters on this article (on a gay website) was that “Brinton’s Facebook page ‘has a picture of the entire happy family at his college graduation ceremony, May 31, 2011’”—despite the fact that Brinton said on the video that “my dad has held a gun up to my head multiple times” and warned Brinton that “he would shoot me if I ever tried to walk in the door again.” (Brinton responded in the comments section that “my parents did come to my graduation since I am the very first person to graduate from college in my family. I am working on building a relationship to them … I was shocked they were there but so happy to see the love starting to rebuild.”)

The Mystery Therapist

More importantly, Brinton, had not (in 2011) and (as far as I know) still has not, identified the counselor who allegedly engaged in these horrific practices—not by name, not by address, not even by city and state where they occurred (more on that later).

Such omissions made even Wayne Besen, a prominent “anti-ex-gay” activist, reluctant to use Brinton’s story without further verification. Here’s the full statement Besen posted in the comments section of the Queerty article which questioned Brinton’s story.

[emphasis added] 

Wayne Besen

Samuel came forward and told a story presumably in an effort to help others. There are groups like mine who would be thrilled to use his example to demonstrate the harm caused by “ex-gay” therapy. We live for real life examples like this.

However, until he provides more information to verify his experience, he makes it impossible for us to use him as an example. Indeed, it would be grossly irresponsible for us to do so.

If a group like mine puts out or promotes a story that turns out to be exaggerated or fake, the religious right would rake us through the coals and by extension the entire LGBT community. This would cast an ominous shadow on all of the legitimate ex-ex-gay testimonies that have helped so many people come out of the closet.

So, for the sake of the movement he is trying to help — it is critical that Sam reveal exactly who the therapist was that tortured him. He could do this publicly or privately, but we need more information before we can use his narrative.

We very much hope he will provide enough information so we can help people by sharing his compelling story.

Sincerely,

Wayne Besen

Truth Wins Out

Oct 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Here is part of Brinton’s reply to Besen:

I was indirectly in contact with Wayne and although I know he wants me to send the information of the therapist that is simply not an option. Counselor after counselor has seen me revert to near suicidal tendencies when I try to dig deep into the memories of that time and I simply don’t have his name. I can picture him clear as day in my nightmares but his name is not there. The movement can’t use me I guess.

I have no problem with people not believing my story. It is not for me to try to prove. I don’t want to be the poster-child of the anti-conversion therapy movement since graduate school at MIT is plenty tough as it is.

. . .

Oct 14, 2011 at 2:11 am

Memory and Forgetting

Note that Brinton says of his therapist, “I can picture him clear as day in my nightmares”—but, as far as I know, he has also never provided a physical description of this individual.

The entire subject of whether childhood trauma can result in repressed memories (as Brinton apparently asserts) is a controversial one. See, for example, the American Psychological Association’s Q&A on the topic here. It states:

Many clinicians who work with trauma victims believe that this dissociation is a person’s way of sheltering himself or herself from the pain of the memory. Many researchers argue, however, that there is little or no empirical support for such a theory.

Even if the former theory is accepted, in Brinton’s case his amnesia is hardly “sheltering [him] from the pain of the memory.” It seems illogical that Brinton would be able to remember—and repeatedly recount in detail before cameras, in paid speaking engagements, and at legislative hearings—the excruciating details of the “torture” he claims he experienced, while repressing (to the point of becoming “near suicidal” at efforts to retrieve them) only the memories of the details—such as name or city—which might allow some verification of his account.

Other Discrepancies in Brinton’s Story

Defenders of the right of people with same-sex attractions to pursue therapy aimed at reducing those attractions last year posted a YouTube video highlighting other problems with the story Brinton has told. For example, in one videotaped speech Brinton said that his therapy was provided by “a doctor.” Yet in one of the first written accounts of his story, from August of 2011, it says his therapy came at the hands of “the session leader¿who Sam specifies was a ‘religious therapist’ and not a doctor.” In yet another video—apparently of Brinton testifying in support of a legislative therapy ban—he says specifically that he was treated by “a licensed psychotherapist.” Note that legislative bans on “sexual orientation change efforts” or “conversion therapy” (a term never actually used by its practitioners) apply only to licensed professionals, not to “religious” counselors.

Even the state in which Brinton underwent his alleged therapy is unclear. In the 2010 “Driftwood” video, Brinton says he grew up in Perry, Iowa. When the video was re-posted at the Huffington Post in October 2011, the article repeated that “Sam was raised in rural Iowa.” However, the Bay Windows account from August 2011 (reposted at LGBTQ Nation) said that Brinton “endured years of reparative therapy designed to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality while living in Kansas.” Only two paragraphs later, however, it says, “Sam was a pre-teen, living with his parents in a conservative religious mission in Florida,” when his ordeal began. In his New York Times op-ed, he says it all happened “when I was a middle schooler in Florida.” So which was it—Iowa, Kansas, or Florida?

Has Brinton Changed?

There is one more discrepancy. In his Times op-ed, Brinton says his “conversion therapy” was “a trauma that was meant to erase my existence as a newly out bisexual.” This is the first time I have heard Brinton refer to himself as “bisexual.” The August 2011 Bay Windows article begins with the sentence, “Samuel Brinton is not afraid to say he’s gay.”

Ironically, if Brinton went from identifying as gay in 2011 to identifying as “bisexual and gender fluid” in 2018, maybe he himself is proof that change is possible after all.

Can the LGBT Movement Own a Phrase?

by Travis Weber

January 26, 2018

In response to a recent video from the ministry Anchored North featuring a girl named Emily explaining sin, forgiveness, and the truth about God’s view of sexuality, The Guardian published a story titled: “‘Love Is Love’: media firm uses LGBT language to send anti-gay message.”

Whoa, stop right there! Whoever decided that “LGBT language” was a thing? And who made who the arbiter of it?

Well, no one did, but the animated response of The Guardian reminds us of an important point: the LGBT movement has indeed been using language, very purposefully, to advance its goals over the years.

In its article, The Guardian reports: “At one point in the video, Emily uses the popular LGBT-affirming phrase ‘born this way,’ but twists it to say that all humans are born with sin, but there is hope in Jesus.”

Who gave the LGBT movement ownership of the phrase “born this way?” No one did, but they took it and used it. However, words are words, and they can describe things besides what the LGBT movement wants them to describe. Some of these things are sin, repentance, and forgiveness.

While it accuses Christians of twisting “LGBT language,” the Guardian piece simply regurgitates terms frequently twisted by the LGBT movement itself to advance its ends. Yet that movement has no monopoly on language. From the animosity shown toward this threat to its hold over certain terminology, however, one realizes the importance of emotive language and certain images to the LGBT movement achieving its ends.

As reported later in the Guardian piece, one woman responded to Emily’s story by saying:

Any attempt to change someone’s sexual or gender identity, even through something as subtle as prayer, is conversion therapy.” (emphasis added)

Let this be a cultural moment for Christians in America to wake up and mark the importance of language and how we use it, along with recognizing the seriousness of the opposition to the gospel and God’s truth displayed here. If Americans who share these basic Christian beliefs on sexuality think they can side-step the cultural battles, they need to remind themselves of the above woman’s hostility to even prayer being a solution. That should wake us all up.

What You Can Do to Fight Sex Trafficking

by Daniel Hart

January 9, 2018

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. There are an estimated 20 to 30 million human trafficking victims in the world today, with an estimated 4.5 million of those forcibly involved in sex trafficking. In the U.S., an estimated 640,000 are being trafficked for sex.

These numbers are profoundly disturbing, and it can be tempting to feel discouraged that ordinary citizens like us are powerless to help these victims and to help stop the demand for paid sex. In reality, there are a number of ways that all of us can help in the fight. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation and Fight the New Drug have both published a list of practical ways we can all join the cause. Here is a brief summary of what you can do:

1. Do Not View or Pay for Porn

As we have written about previously, porn and sex trafficking are inseparably linked. Each click of pornography creates a demand for more pornography and brings in a profit to the industry. The demand causes traffickers, pimps, and those involved in the sex industry to abuse their victims by filming them in sex acts.

2. Learn How to Identify Potential Victims and Report Suspicious Activity

If you think you see suspicious activity happening wherever you are, be sure you have learned about what to look for. The Department of Homeland Security has published Indicators of Human Trafficking—be sure to look for these warning signs particularly in airports, gas stations, rest stops, and hotels. If you think you see something suspicious, call local law enforcement, or you can contact the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

3. Use a New App to Take Pictures of Your Hotel Room

Hotel rooms are a hotspot for sex trafficking. Victims are often advertised online through pictures taken of them in hotel rooms. As Fight the New Drug has written on, there is a new app called TraffickCam that catalogues details of different hotel rooms like wallpaper and furniture to help create a database of identifiers, which can then be used by TraffickCam’s algorithm to match images of sex trafficking victims that will help law enforcement identify the possible locations of victims.

4. Participate in Online Activism

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) has organized a number of ways that you can participate in online activism. Here are two:

  • Joining NCSE’s #TACKLEDEMAND social media campaign before the Super Bowl is a way to bring awareness about the problem of large commercial sporting events being used by sex traffickers and buyers for sexual exploitation.
  • Netflix is producing a show called “Baby” that normalizes the sexual exploitation of young teenagers by portraying it as a kind of “edgy” coming of age story. You can protest this repulsive show by sending an email or Facebook message to Netflix executives demanding that they stop producing it.

Oregon State Appeals Court Rules Against Aaron and Melissa Klein

by Travis Weber

January 5, 2018

On December 28th, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against Aaron and Melissa Klein, upholding a determination under state law that forced them to create a cake for a same-sex wedding against their consciences.

The court threw cold water on the Kleins’ First Amendment defenses, claiming that if it allowed them to proceed, then others seeking to defend racial discrimination through religious freedom claims would also be allowed to prevail.

The Court also goes overboard by accepting and recounting wholesale the feelings and perceptions of the upset same-sex couple, coloring bias into the entire narrative—while failing to do the same courtesy for the feelings and perceptions of Aaron and Melissa, who no doubt have been seriously harmed throughout this case. Moreover, Aaron and Melissa had to endure a barrage of hateful rhetoric directed at them as this incident developed, yet none of this is built into the court’s recounting of events, which ultimately supported highly excessive damages against the Kleins built on nothing more than the couple’s flimsy emotional narrative.

Yet there were a couple of bright spots in the opinion.

The one finding the court reversed was the part of the administrative ruling which acted as a “gag order” on the Kleins being able to speak about what happened to them. This finding was outrageous, and rightly reversed by the court of appeals.

Second, even though the court ruled against the Kleins’ freedom of expression claim, it recognized that to the degree such cake creations are artistic, they are very likely protected. Noting that “[i]t appears that the Supreme Court has never decided a free-speech challenge to the application of a public accommodations law to a retail establishment selling highly customized, creative goods and services that arguably are in the nature of art or other expression,” the court said that “[i]f BOLI’s [Bureau of Labor and Industry—the administrative entity which ruled against the Kleins] order can be understood to compel the Kleins to create pure ‘expression’ that they would not otherwise create, it is possible that the Court would regard BOLI’s order as a regulation of content, thus subject to strict scrutiny, the test for regulating fully protected expression.” This also “would be a different case if BOLI’s order had awarded damages against the Kleins for refusing to decorate a cake with a specific message requested by a customer (‘God Bless This Marriage.’)”

Well, the Supreme Court is about to decide this very issue in Jack Phillips’ case—Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission—in the upcoming months. When his case is decided, the Kleins’ case may be too. Indeed, at oral argument in Phillips’ case, the exact message “God Bless This Marriage” was mentioned by the justices as implicating protected expressive conduct (one wonders if the Oregon Court of Appeals specifically cited it in order to leave itself an “out”).

Finally, in another bright moment in its opinion, the Oregon Court of Appeals observed that the Kleins’ case (and therefore many of these wedding vendor cases) are unlike FAIR v. Rumsfeld, in which the Supreme Court said law schools must allow military recruiters (the military was under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at the time) access to campus if they wanted to continue to receive federal funds. Opponents of the Kleins and others often claim their cases are like FAIR, and it was good to see the Court here dismiss that notion, observing that the law schools never objected to being forced to speak a message with which they disagree, while the Kleins and other wedding vendors do.

Despite these few promising points, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling is a blow to freedom for all, and will only perpetuate the current culture war by suppressing the religious freedom of many people of good will who just want to live their lives in peace. The Kleins’ opponents could have easily obtained a cake from a nearby bakery, and the problem would be solved. Instead, once again, everyone has been dragged into years of litigation. Until a different approach to these conflicts is taken, we can only expect more of the same results.

A Pastor’s Take on the Sex Abuse Scandals of 2017

by Family Research Council

January 3, 2018

Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Al Franken. What do these men have in common? They, along with over one hundred others, were accused in recent months of sexual misconduct. The list of names spans the east and west coasts, the media and politics, Democrats and Republicans. The revelation of widespread sex abuse was one of the most important developments of 2017. It brought darkness to light and uncovered a societal cancer that has been kept secret for far too long.

Some have expressed shock that people can indeed be so evil. Some wonder if this kind of depravity has always happened but remained concealed. Is the extreme nature of this abuse a new phenomenon?

As Christians, what are we to say about these things? Who’s to blame? And more importantly, how do we get out of this mess?

For Christians, none of this twisted sexual behavior should come as a surprise. Humanity has been this broken all along. The Bible gives both a framework for understanding why all of this is happening as well as a clear way out of the mess. Christians have believed for a long time in the depravity of mankind, that every human person is sinful and broken. This view of depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we possibly can be, but rather that any one of us is capable of doing anything.

Of course, this theological understanding of mankind does not in any way excuse the behavior of these men, any more than a compulsive liar’s proclivity to tell untruths justifies the lies he or she tells. We believe in protecting the innocent, fighting injustice, and guarding those who are most vulnerable in our society. We also believe that the government’s job is to punish evildoers, as the Apostle Paul states in Romans 13. If any of these men are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But while justice must be done, to what extent does our society also share some of the blame? Since the sexual revolution, American sexual mores have been alarmingly and harmfully fluid. Coupled with the moral relativism that has been espoused in many public forums—especially the media, the arts, and the classroom—the sexual revolution effectively taught boys and girls that personal expression supersedes “restrictive” traditional ethics. Those boys and girls grew up to be some of the same men and women who decided that love of self-expression is to be valued more than love of neighbor.

Currently, even our elementary aged children are exposed to sexual education where traditional sexual boundaries are pushed. Whether it is the issue of gender identification, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, or polyamory, the culture has enabled the sexual confusion and dysfunction we are experiencing. There is little doubt as to why we are where we are. Ideas have consequences. Failing to recognize any moral absolutes, society has left the door open for a host of unethical behaviors. It is time for our society to look in the mirror when leveling blame for these tragedies.

These scandals simply reflect the outcome when a society rejects the Christian notion of moral absolutes, which are grounded in the creative design of God. The British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once famously remarked, “If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.” In this cultural moment, we are seeing what happens when people try to fill the void in their lives that is left when there is no room for God. We are sex-obsessed. Sex has become a god, and as all idols do, it has left us hurting and broken.

So, amidst the very apparent brokenness we are experiencing as a society, how should we respond, particularly from a Christian perspective?

Scripture calls us to humility and hope. We must have humility, because we believe “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Let him who thinks he stands beware lest he fall,” Scripture warns us (1 Corinthians 10:12). While not everyone has committed sexual assault, everyone stands equally sinful before God. Furthermore, most people struggle with sexual dysfunction in one way or another. We are all sexually broken and our sexuality needs to be healed. This recognition should give us humility.

Beyond humility, the gospel also says that there is hope. For the victims there is hope that justice will be done, if not on earth then in heaven. There is hope for those who feel used, hurt, dirty, and perhaps even full of shame. Regardless of what has caused that shame, cleansing is possible. The Christian gospel is clear: you are not the sum total of what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. People do not have to be defined by their mistakes, or the destructive actions of others. Psalm 147 tells us that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Restoration is possible through Christ.

A more scandalous notion is that those who have been accused have hope as well. Regardless of the crime they may have committed, any of these men who turn to Christ in repentance and faith can be forgiven and made new. This is the hope of the gospel: because of Christ crucified, our sin—past, present, and future—has already been judged at the cross. God reckoned Jesus as guilty so He could reckon us as innocent. The good news of the gospel is that no matter the mistake, forgiveness can be received in Jesus. What’s more, Christ rose from the dead, enabling us to walk in newness of life. Christ can restore us in such a way that we can pursue all of life, including our sexuality, in the way God designed it. We don’t have to be who we’ve been. That’s a message that Harvey Weinstein needs to hear. That’s a message that we all need to hear.

Dr. Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.

Franken’s Senate Replacement is a Former Planned Parenthood VP

by Kelly Marcum

December 14, 2017

NOMINEE: Tina Smith

BIRTH DATE: March 4, 1958

EDUCATION: B.S. in Political Science, Stanford University, 1980. M.B.A. from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, 1984.

FAMILY: Lives in Minneapolis with her husband of thirty years, Archie Smith. They have two grown sons, Sam and Mason, who also reside in Minnesota.

EXPERIENCE: Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota (2015-present); Chief of Staff to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (2011-2015); Chief of Staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (2006-2011); Vice President of External Affairs, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota (2003-2006); Involved with Minnesota’s Democratic-Famer-Laborer (DFL) party since 1998; Founded a political and campaign consulting firm, Macwilliams, Cosrove, Smith, Robinson, (1992); General Mills’ marketing department (1984-1992)

 

Abortion

Planned Parenthood connection:

Smith’s abortion advocacy runs in the family. Her father, Harlan Flint, was a board member for Planned Parenthood Ohio. In 2003, Smith became the Vice President for External Affairs, at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, functioning as their lead registered lobbyist. 

Smith has said that Planned Parenthood provides “critical care” and that she is “proud of that work.” During her tenure at the organization, it had an increase in abortions by 22 percent, performing 9,717 abortions in Minnesota. 1,892 of these abortions were performed on low-income women, allowing the organization to be reimbursed $458,574.74 by Minnesota taxpayers. In 2004, Planned Parenthood became the state’s largest abortion provider, a title it maintains to this day. Between 2003 and 2005, Planned Parenthood Minnesota received $12.65 million in government grants.

As a Planned Parenthood Vice President, Smith lobbied against pro-life legislation, including informed consent laws for mothers and one-day waiting periods for abortions. Specifically, she led the organization’s fight against the Woman’s Right to Know Act in Minnesota, which became law in 2003. The Act requires women to be informed of the gestational age of their child as well as of the associated risks with any procedures, and it requires the physician to provide information to the mother on resources for available prenatal, childbirth, and neonatal care, as well as resources for financial support. The Woman’s Right to Know Act also requires a 24-hour waiting period after the woman has been properly informed before she can give consent to undergo the abortion.

Smith also lobbied against the Positive Alternatives Act of 2005, which provided state grants to nonprofits that supported women who chose not to abort by providing services such as housing assistance, adoption services, child care, parental education, and employment assistance. The purpose of an eligible grant applicant had to be to “maximize the potential” of the mother and support her after childbirth. Despite Smith’s efforts to convince legislators that pregnancy care centers that don’t refer women for abortions should not be eligible for state grants, the law passed in 2005.

Smith continues to have the political support of her former employer. In 2012 the Planned Parenthood Action Fund honored Smith “for her passion and commitment to Planned Parenthood.” Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota stated: “[Tina Smith] really built our education and outreach efforts. She’s got a pretty strong legacy around here.”

When asked about Congress’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, Smith replied: “I think it’s almost totally political…It’s just a bad idea.”

Following Governor Mark Dayton’s announcement of Smith as his appointee to replace Senator Al Franken upon Franken’s resignation, Stoesz publicly endorsed the move, saying Smith “will be a powerful, moving force for justice” due to her “business acumen and passion for women’s health and rights.” Stoesz added: “As the Chief of Staff to Governor Dayton and as Lieutenant Governor there simply hasn’t been a stronger voice for women‘s health and rights…Tina Smith [understands] that women can’t earn a living or support their children if they don’t have access to the reproductive health care they need.”

Pro-Choice Politics

Since 2011, Smith has served in the administration of Governor Mark Dayton, after having served as one of his campaign advisors leading up to his 2010 election. Dayton enjoys a 100 percent rating by NARAL. During Dayton’s first term, in which he vetoed seven different pro-life measures, Smith served as his Chief of Staff. Among the legislation Dayton vetoed was the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions occurring after 20 weeks, when unborn children can feel pain.

When Dayton successfully ran for reelection in 2014, Smith was his running mate. During Smith’s time as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, the Dayton administration continues to be unequivocally pro-abortion. In March 2017, the governor vetoed two bills, which would have denied taxpayer dollars from funding abortion, as well as required licenses for abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota applauded the veto, saying in a statement that “Minnesota women are deeply grateful that Gov. Dayton is once again using his veto pen to protect a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion.”

Although Planned Parenthood is thrilled that their former lobbyist is heading to Washington, pro-life Minnesotans continue to be displeased at their lack of pro-life representation in the Beltway.  “Tina Smith is, without a doubt, the Abortion Senator,” said Leo LaLonde, President of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

Religious Liberty and Reproductive Rights

Tina Smith has explicitly maintained that women’s so-called “reproductive rights” should trump religious liberty protections. Following the release of the new Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations which rolled back the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, providing conscience protections for institutions with stances opposing birth control, Smith called the action an “outrageous assault on the health and well-being of women and families.” She also stated that “birth control is essential health care for women” and vowed to “keep fighting to protect the rights of every person to make decisions about their own health care.”

 

LGBT Agenda

Tina Smith is viewed incredibly favorably by the Left for her stances on LGBT issues. Governor Dayton’s administration is very friendly to the LGBT community, and September 24, 2016 was declared Human Rights Campaign Day, in honor of the LGBT advocacy carried out by the Human Rights Campaign.

Same-Sex Marriage

Smith’s activism and career primarily point to her pro-abortion views. However, she is also pro-same-sex marriage, and released the following statement following the Supreme Court decision of Obergevell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states: “Today, the Court upheld that basic promise in all 50 states, and confirmed what Minnesotans have known for years - that love is love. While this is a major victory, there is more work to be done. We need to continue fighting until all Americans have equal rights and protections guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Positions

Tina Smith stands vehemently opposed to President Trump’s decision to roll back President Obama’s transgender bathroom policy. She has called the Obama-era policies “reasonable protections” designed to “assure the basic dignity of all transgender students.” In her statement decrying the Trump administration’s decision to reverse the bathroom policy, she assured Minnesotans that she and Governor Dayton “will continue to do all we can to defend the rights and dignity of every young Minnesotan, including transgender students.”

A Three-Dimensional Case for Masterpiece Cakeshop — from Justice Kagan, No Less

by Peter Sprigg

December 12, 2017

I am not generally a fan of liberal Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. But after reading the entire transcript of the December 5 oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (in which a Christian baker was found guilty by Colorado of discrimination for declining to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple), I thought one question she asked was especially insightful.

Most of the discussion on Jack Phillips’ free speech claim centered on a question distilled by Justice Stephen Breyer. Baker Jack Phillips argues that his First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech was violated by Colorado’s application of its public accommodations law to him, but Breyer asked, “[W]hat is the line? … [W]e want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law.”

Kagan elaborated on that concern in a question posed to U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was arguing in support of Phillips:

JUSTICE KAGAN: General, it — it seems as though there are kind of three axes on which people are asking you what’s the line? How do we draw the line? So one axis is what we started with, like what about the chef and the florist -

GENERAL FRANCISCO: Speech, non-speech.

JUSTICE KAGAN: — and — and, you know, everybody else that participates in a wedding? A second axis is, well, why is this only about gay people? Why isn’t it about race? Why isn’t it about gender? Why isn’t it about people of different religions? So that’s a second axis.

And there’s a third axis, which is why is it just about weddings? You say ceremonies, events. What else counts? Is it the funeral? Is it the Bar Mitzvah or the communion? Is it the anniversary celebration? Is it the birthday celebration?

So there are all three of these that suggest like, whoa, this doesn’t seem like such a small thing.

1. “Speech” vs. “non-speech” in the wedding industry

The core of the argument made by Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, related to the first “axis” Kagan mentioned. The courts have previously found that under the First Amendment’s free speech protections, not only may the government not punish an individual for speaking his own opinions, but the government also may not compel an individual to communicate a message he disagrees with against his will. Using his talents to create a custom wedding cake is a form of artistic expression which is protected as “speech” under the First Amendment, Waggoner argued. Doing so for a same-sex wedding would constitute a message of endorsement of a homosexual relationship and of same-sex marriage, which violates Jack Phillips’ religious beliefs. Therefore, the state of Colorado may not compel Phillips’ to create such a cake without violating his First Amendment rights.

The justices demanded to know what other vendors providing goods and services for a wedding would or would not enjoy similar free speech protections. What type of commercial conduct constitutes “speech,” and what is “non-speech,” as Francisco put it? Waggoner suggested that the exemption would apply to a baker, florist, or calligrapher creating invitations; but might not apply to a hair stylist or makeup artist (more on that later).

Yet I think Kagan’s other two “axes” (plural of “axis,” not “ax”) are also significant. Unlike Kagan, however, I think they make the case easier to decide, not harder.

2. “Why is this only about gay people?”

The second axis of line-drawing has to do with any distinctions between various protected categories. Is there a difference between “discrimination” that is based on sexual orientation (“gay people”), and that based on race, sex, or religion? Attorneys on the other side and the more liberal justices hammered on the race analogy—if we allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, can he also refuse to bake a cake for a black child’s birthday?

Now, before discussing the question of whether “discrimination” based on “sexual orientation” is the same as racial discrimination, let me state my own view that refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding does not constitute discrimination based on “sexual orientation” at all. Phillips’ principal objection stems primarily from his religious beliefs about the definition of marriage (that it is inherently a union of one man and one woman) and his beliefs about the appropriate boundaries of sexual conduct (that it should only take place in the context of a marriage so defined). This has nothing inherently to do with the “sexual orientation” of the individuals involved.

Phillips would bake a cake for a wedding of two people who self-identify as homosexual—if they were of the opposite sex. And he would not bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, even if the individuals involved identified as heterosexual. If those examples sound absurd, it is only because in our time we have a cultural assumption that an indispensable purpose of marriage is the gratification of sexual desires. Yet that is an assumption about marriage that has by no means been universal in all times and all cultures, and the Court need not adopt it as a legal assumption today.

The Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law that Phillips was charged with violating makes no distinctions among its protected categories. But that is not the legal question at issue. Phillips is asserting a claim under the U.S. Constitution, which (if successful) would override a state statute. The question is whether the “discrimination” he is accused of gives the government a compelling interest in overriding that federal constitutional claim. Under federal court precedents, there is a distinction to be made between race and sexual orientation. Classifications of individuals on the basis of race are subject to “strict scrutiny,” which means that they can very rarely be justified. The Supreme Court has never said that classifications based on “sexual orientation” are subject to the same high level of scrutiny.

I have argued elsewhere that the reason classifications based on race are subjected to the highest scrutiny is because race is, indisputably, a characteristic that is inborn, involuntary, immutable, innocuous, and in the Constitution. “Sexual orientation” does not meet the same criteria. In fact, its definition is not entirely clear, since depending on the context, it may refer to a person’s sexual attractions, their sexual behavior, or their self-identification, or some combination of the three. The three aspects of sexual orientation are also not always consistent in one individual at one time, or over the life course. A person’s sexual attractions may indeed be involuntary (I am not saying people “choose to be gay,” if “being gay” is defined based on attractions alone). However, a person’s sexual behavior and self-identification do not meet any of the criteria which justify strict scrutiny of racial classifications. For those who disapprove of homosexuality, it is almost entirely the conduct—not the attractions or even the self-identification—which is seen as problematic.

I realize that in a 2010 case (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the 5-4 majority, “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context.” The “context” she referred to was a sexual orientation classification. (In that case, the University of California’s law school had denied recognition to a Christian student organization because they did not permit people who engaged in “unrepentant homosexual conduct” to serve in leadership positions.) “CLS contends that it does not exclude individuals because of sexual orientation,” reported Ginsburg, “but rather ‘on the basis of a conjunction of conduct and the belief that the conduct is not wrong.’” An analysis in the New York Times described Ginsburg’s sentence rejecting the distinction between “status and conduct” as a “time bomb” which could explode with broader implications in later cases (as it did in the later cases involving the definition of marriage).

Justice Anthony Kennedy himself, however (despite having been the decisive vote in the decisions striking down both federal and state definitions of marriage as the union of a man and a woman), seemed to hint that he might be willing to defuse the status-conduct “time bomb” in the context of the Masterpiece case. Here is part of an exchange with David D. Cole, the attorney representing the same-sex couple, after Cole repeatedly asserted that Jack Phillips’ action was “identity discrimination”:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but this whole concept of identity is a slightly—suppose he says: Look, I have nothing against—against gay people. He says but I just don’t think they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my beliefs. It’s not –

MR. COLE: Yeah.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: It’s not their identity; it’s what they’re doing.

MR. COLE: Yeah.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think it’s — your identity thing is just too facile. [Emphasis added.]

Whether the court has distinguished between homosexual conduct and an “identity” or “status” as “gay” in prior decisions or not, the distinction clearly exists in the real world, and it makes sexual orientation different from race (or sex). It would be salutary for the Court to acknowledge that now.

3. “Why is it just about weddings?”

The third axis of line-drawing posited by Kagan has to do with the type of events which, hypothetically at least, might trigger a religious objection and therefore a religious or free-speech exception to anti-discrimination laws.

However, it is clear that the liberty Phillips is seeking in this case has specifically and narrowly to do with weddings because of the nature of that event. He and his attorneys have repeatedly made clear that Jack Phillips regularly serves customers who openly self-identify as gay. His policy of not creating custom cakes for same-sex weddings therefore bears no resemblance to racially segregated businesses in the Jim Crow south, which either did not serve black customers at all, or would only serve them in physically segregated facilities.

Phillips’ attorney Kristen Waggoner described his objection regarding weddings most succinctly in her final summation, when she said this:

A wedding cake expresses an inherent message that is that the union is a marriage and is to be celebrated, and that message violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions.

This single sentence makes two distinct points. The “message … that [a same-sex] union is a marriage … violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions” (because his Christian faith teaches him that “marriage” can only be defined as the union of a man and a woman). In addition, the “message … that [a homosexual] union … is to be celebrated” also “violates Mr. Phillips’s religious convictions” (because his Christian faith teaches that homosexual relationships are sinful—that is, always contrary to the will of God).

Neither of these objections, however, would apply to providing baked goods for a birthday celebration or a funeral reception for someone who identifies as gay, because neither a birthday nor a funeral sends “an inherent message” that marriage can be between people of the same sex, nor that sexual relations between people of the same sex are to be celebrated. Only a wedding (and potentially a wedding-related event, such as a shower or anniversary) sends that particular, and particularly objectionable, message.

In fact, Solicitor General Noel Francisco seemed to me to at least hint at an argument for an even broader exemption than what Phillips’ own attorney, Kristen Waggoner, was requesting. Waggoner argued narrowly that the specific act of creating a custom wedding cake was a form of creative, artistic expression that merits free speech protection. Francisco, however, made repeated reference (seven times, by my count) to the wedding itself as an “expressive event.” This, it seems to me, would suggest that any participation in the celebration of a same-sex wedding—even if it involves less creative artistry than the creation of a custom-made cake—could constitute implicit endorsement of the message in support of same-sex marriage and in support of homosexual unions that is inherent in the event itself.

The Three-Dimensional Solution

Justice Kagan’s concern was that drawing lines too broadly on all three axes she described would result in exceptions that would completely swallow the rule of Colorado’s public accommodation non-discrimination law. If we allow exceptions for bakers, what about other vendors? If we allow exceptions for sexual orientation, what about other protected categories? And if we allow exceptions for weddings, what about other events? If broad exemptions are granted in all three areas, then, as she said, “whoa, this doesn’t seem like such a small thing.”

I believe, however, that there are sound reasons for narrowing the exemption regarding protected categories only to sexual orientation—logically, because it involves primarily conduct, and legally, because it is not subject to strict scrutiny and is never mentioned in the text of the Constitution. As noted above, there are also reasonable grounds for treating a wedding differently from other events.

With the lines drawn narrowly with respect to those categories, I think there would be room for the line regarding which vendors can claim free speech protection to be drawn a bit more broadly. I would like to see the Supreme Court adopt Solicitor General Francisco’s view of a wedding itself as an “expressive event”—and therefore extend the protection against “compelled speech” to any vendor who provides wedding services—whether baker, florist, or photographer, or calligrapher; or even chef, hair stylist or makeup artist.

Such a decision would leave Colorado’s non-discrimination law intact, while still recognizing the elevated threat to freedom of conscience that arises in the narrow and unique situation of participation in celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Remembering Mike Penner

by Peter Sprigg

December 4, 2017

On November 20, LGBT activists observed this year’s “Transgender Day of Remembrance.”

For the most part, they call upon people to remember those who identified as transgender who have been murdered in anti-transgender hate crimes. Such crimes deserve clear condemnation—like that offered in May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who declared “the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals.”

More numerous than those murdered in hate crimes, however, are those who have identified as transgender but died by their own hand.

So on this Day of Remembrance, I was remembering Mike Penner.

Mike Penner was a well-respected sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times. On April 26, 2007, Penner became the story instead of the reporter, by announcing to readers in his column that after a vacation, he would return to his work as a woman. He adopted the name Christine Daniels.

In some ways, Penner’s “gender transition” went as smoothly as he could possibly have hoped. The Times—both management and his colleagues—were supportive. He was anxious the day his column (headlined “Old Mike, new Christine”) appeared, but his editor had urged him to write it in order to control the release of the news. In advance of the article, Penner’s editor reportedly shared the news individually with 45 other members of the staff, and “not one person expressed discomfort.” According to an account in the Times the next day, “by day’s end, Daniels said she had received only two negative responses out of 538 e-mails.” Nearly a thousand readers commented online, and the responses “were overwhelmingly positive.” Penner/Daniels told a staff writer that “a day I dreaded all my life has ended up being one of the best days I’ve ever had.”

It didn’t last. Penner’s last column under the name Christine Daniels was published on April 4, 2008, after which he went on disability leave. When he finally returned to work in October, it was as Mike Penner. Penner wanted every trace of his female alter ego erased from the Times’ website. He was told it couldn’t be done, that it violated their policy on archived material. But eventually, the material disappeared. Christine was gone.

A little over a year later, so was Mike. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Mike Penner took his own life.

There have been at least three long feature articles on the tragic story of Mike Penner. Christopher Goffard wrote one for the Times, Nancy Hass for GQ, and Steve Friess for LA Weekly. This post is based primarily on information drawn from those three articles.

Of course, every person’s story is unique, so there are limits to how much you can generalize about a group of people from what happened to one individual. Nevertheless, Penner’s sad story should serve as a cautionary tale to those—whether transgender or not—who assume that a “gender transition” is automatically the best solution for someone experiencing “gender dysphoria” (an unhappiness with their biological sex at birth).

According to the Friess account (told mostly from the perspective of others who identify as transgender who knew Penner as “Christine”), Penner’s feelings of gender dysphoria began in childhood, when “[h]e would sneak into his mother’s closet in their Anaheim home to try on shoes and dabble with her makeup, then scrub it off shamefully before vowing never to do it again.” According to the Hass account, “Christine” told friends about “playing princess dress-up with her male cousins as a child.”

However, the transgender community in Los Angeles was unaware of Penner until 2004, when he first showed up at “Countessa’s Closet”—essentially a women’s clothing store that caters to men. In August of 2005 he made his first appearance in a public place as a woman, going out to a restaurant with Susan Horn, another male-to-female transgender friend whom Penner met at Countessa’s.

Between that time and Penner’s public “coming out” as transgender in April 2007, he apparently did not reveal his real (male) name to others who identified as transgender. Horn deduced that “Christine” was actually the sportswriter Mike Penner in June of 2006—but when confronted, Penner became frightened and angry.

By early 2007, however, it appears that Penner had begun dressing as Christine full-time, and had begun taking female hormones. He had also started attending the Metropolitan Community Church, which is actively affirming of LGBT lifestyles. In February, he spoke to his boss, the sports editor of the Times, Randy Harvey, about transitioning (Penner usually worked from home). It was Harvey—in a recommendation some later questioned—who urged Penner to explain the transition publicly in a column. It was bound to become a subject of comment, and Harvey said, “I think you need to write it. Don’t let anybody else write it first.”

After the column appeared, “Christine Daniels” was widely celebrated. While remaining in the sports department, Penner also began a blog for the Times about his transition, titled “A Woman in Progress.” In a June interview with an LGBT website, Penner was asked, “Money can buy hormones and a closet full of fabulous shoes, but does it buy happiness?” He responded, “Hormones + legal name change + setting the stage for a new life = happiness, no doubt about that.”

In July, Penner’s friend and noted sportswriter Rick Reilly wrote a supportive piece for Sports Illustrated. That same month, Penner made his own public debut as “Christine” when covering the Los Angeles debut of British soccer star David Beckham, who had been signed to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy. And on July 19, 2007, Penner’s name was legally changed from “Michael Daniel Penner” to “Christine Michelle Daniels.”

Christine received many invitations to speak and to attend fundraisers. Perhaps a high point was speaking at the convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in the late summer. In September, Christine met Dr. Marci Bowers, a gender reassignment surgeon who had transitioned from male to female himself, and began making plans to have surgery, which was scheduled for July 2008.

Why did things go downhill? One related to something unique to Penner—his relative celebrity. Even before his coming-out column appeared, he told one friend, “I feel as if I am being used as a pawn by the trans community (and maybe the Times as well).” That feeling would increase as the months went on.

Two other factors, however, were ones that may often, if not always, be relevant to others who change their public gender identity as well.

One was the question of Christine’s appearance. The first to say publicly what many may have thought was Paul Oberjuerge, a writer for the San Bernardino County Sun. After the Beckham press conference, he commented on the paper’s website:

She looks like a guy in a dress, pretty much. Except anyone paying any attention isn’t going to be fooled — as some people are by veteran transvestites. Maybe this is cruel, but there were women in that room who were born women in body, as well as soul. And the difference between them and Christine was, in my mind, fairly stark. It seemed almost as [if] we’re all going along with someone’s dress-up role-playing.

More troubling to Christine was an October 2007 photo shoot for a planned article in Vanity Fair (recall that Olympic star Bruce Jenner first came out as “Caitlyn” in a 2015 cover story for Vanity Fair). According to Friess, “Accounts of what occurred there vary so starkly that they are hard to reconcile.”

But the photographer, Robert Maxwell, said later, “I was trying to say all the right things. How do you tell someone who looks like a man, ‘You’re a beautiful woman’? I don’t know.” Goffard’s piece for the Times noted:

The profile writer, Evan Wright, said that to write an honest article, he would have to observe that the sportswriter did not pass as a woman. “I thought, ‘Bottom line, she has a fantasy conception. She doesn’t accept who she is.’”

In an email to friends, Christine lamented:

It was a total debacle, probably the worst experience of my transition. [The] photographer apparently wanted to portray me as a man in a dress, my worst fear, as I expressed numerous times.

After Penner abandoned his female persona, but before he committed suicide, writer Steve Friess wrote about the phenomenon of “sex change regret” in an article in USA Today. He quoted Denise Leclair of the International Foundation for Gender Education, who acknowledged, “The average male-to-female transsexual is taller, has bigger hands and feet, has more facial hair than most women. There are a lot of physical attributes that are hard to hide …” One friend recalled of “Christine,” “She would say that she had spent forty-five minutes putting on her makeup and still she saw Mike staring back.”

The other crucial factor in the “failure” of Penner’s transition was the end of his marriage. When he made the announcement that he was becoming a woman, he had been married for twenty years to a woman who also wrote for the Times (I am choosing not to identify her here, out of respect for her privacy). She has never spoken publicly about Penner—neither after his transition, nor after his death. The published reports are somewhat unclear, but it appears that the two separated at the beginning of 2007, after Penner began hormone treatments and started dressing consistently as a woman. According to Friess, Penner’s wife filed for divorce on May 23, 2007—the same day that Penner first appeared in the Times’ offices as a woman.

Penner—naively—seemed not to accept that his gender transition would mean the end of his marriage. But his wife reportedly was blunt: “I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t ever want to see you that way.”

And according to Friess, “Penner repeatedly told friends his return to a male lifestyle was a last-ditch effort to reunite with his wife in some way.” Hass says that after Penner returned to a male identity, his wife “was willing to see him again, to have lunch or a cup of coffee.” But even those contacts became less frequent—“She’s moved on,” he told one friend. “I had the perfect life with [my wife], and I threw it all away,” he lamented.

Finally, Penner’s mental health was clearly fragile for most of the last two years of his life. It is clear that after the euphoria of his first six months living openly as a “woman,” Penner’s mental state went downhill, and resuming his male identity did nothing to stabilize it. It appears that stress was manifesting in abdominal distress with no clear organic cause. Goffard reports that when Penner went on disability leave in April 2008, “close friends knew [he] was manic depressive.” Manic depression is an older term for what is now known as “bipolar disorder,” and it is unclear whether Penner was ever treated for that specific condition. Friess reports that in the summer of 2008, Penner “was diagnosed as severely depressed. Doctors prescribed a regimen of powerful psychotropic drugs that included the antipsychotic Zyprexa and the antidepressant Elavil.” He was also hospitalized at least once in 2009 in a psychiatric hospital, and friends reported “wild mood swings and suicidal chatter” well before he finally took his life.

Friess reported, “No studies have been conducted to determine whether withdrawal from the hormones can cause depression, but mental-health professionals who work with transgender people say patients who have stopped taking the drugs report feelings of distress.” Friess also reports that Bowers, the transgender surgeon, “believes Penner put one foot in the grave by abandoning the transition.” In a thoroughly self-serving statement, Bowers declared, “If we had done surgery, it probably would have saved her life. Now she died as an unhappy soul who never got a chance to align her body and soul.”

The opposite would seem to be the case. As Hass reports, Penner “had been convinced that becoming a woman would solve everything.” Even a transgender-identified friend had tried to warn him “that the act of becoming a woman itself wouldn’t make you happy.” Yet this fiction seems to be at the very heart of the transgender movement and the growing mania for self-defined “gender identity.”

I would suggest that the tragic story of Mike Penner holds three key lessons for those struggling with gender dysphoria and considering a “transition” away from identifying with their biological sex at birth:

  1. Completely erasing your inborn sex in the eyes of others may not be possible. Clothes, hormones, and even gender reassignment surgery do not make a woman. There are aspects of appearance—size, bone structure, muscle mass, etc.—that simply differ between the sexes and are not amenable to change.
  2. You may be forfeiting important relationships in your life. It is naïve to suppose that someone who has always known you as a son or brother will readily define you as a daughter or sister instead. And it is even more naïve to suppose that a beloved spouse who married someone of the opposite sex will suddenly be fine being in a “same-sex” marriage.
  3. Finally, mental health problems such as depression or bipolar disorder, which frequently accompany gender dysphoria, need to be treated in their own right before considering a “gender transition.” Even the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in their “Standards of Care,” warns, “If significant medical or mental concerns are present, they must be reasonably well controlled.”

In his “coming out” column in 2007, Mike Penner said the decision followed “hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy.” He had reportedly sought counseling at the Los Angeles Gender Center—yet it is possible that such overtly pro-transgender facilities place greater emphasis on facilitating a client’s desired gender transition than on “controlling” co-existing mental health problems.

Anyone who thinks that undergoing a “gender transition” is the only and obvious response to the presence of gender dysphoria should look closely at the tragic story of Mike Penner.

We Need To Rethink Our Sexual Culture

by Daniel Hart

October 25, 2017

Ezra Klein is on to something.

Klein, the editor of the news and opinion website Vox, which leans decidedly progressive-Left, recently wrote a piece detailing his growing realization about the shocking prevalence of sexual harassment and assault that women (and men) suffer in our culture, which is just now beginning to fully come to light in the public square after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke earlier this month.

What’s startling about Klein’s piece is the candor he displays. For a progressive, this level of honesty on a social issue is nothing short of a thunderbolt:

There is a pervasiveness to sexual assault in America that defies the word “problem.” When a system creates an outcome this consistently, this predictably, in this many different spaces, you have to at least consider the possibility that the outcome is intended, that the system is working as designed.

Perhaps we need to do more than try to root out the worst abusers. Perhaps we need to rethink our sexual culture too.

Perhaps we need to rethink our sexual culture too.” This is exactly what social conservatives have been shouting from the rooftops for decades. But in the public square, they have been consistently shot down as, at best, hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with modern sensibilities, and at worst, trying to control women’s bodies.

How did we get here? Let’s quickly review some indisputable facts of our country’s history. With every passing year since the early 1960’s, our culture has seen a steady progression of permissiveness of sex outside of marriage. What was once considered a societal taboo slowly but surely became more and more accepted. As television, movies, and popular culture crossed one line after another, much of society followed along, creating what is now known as the Sexual Revolution.

What has this revolution wrought in our society? Many things, of course, but with regard to our personal lives, it chiefly brought us widespread acceptance of contraception as a way to have consequence-free sex with whomever we wish, and when that fails, to abort the baby that is conceived. Contraception and abortion are thus upheld as paragons of freedom and autonomy by those who think that the Sexual Revolution finally freed women from the slavery and repression of pregnancy and childbirth. In effect, women are now as “free” as men to sleep around as much as they want without consequences.

But are women now happier as a result? Klein answers this for us:

Last week, the hashtag #MeToo took over social media. Virtually every woman I follow, on every social platform, no matter the industry or walk of life they came from, shared stories of harassment, abuse, and worse. I read searing tales from reporters and techies, chefs and yogis, civil servants and mountain climbers.

This is the cold reality that progressives must face. What if the revolution that created the perceived “freedom” of consequence-free sex for women unwittingly turned those very same women into objects of sexual pleasure for men? If there is no consequence to sex, what’s the big deal about it, anyway? Logically speaking, what is the difference between shaking hands with someone and having sex with them? If sex is merely a social transaction, why are women so instinctually protective of giving themselves away? Most men don’t seem to have that same instinct, so shouldn’t women be the same? Isn’t this about equality between the sexes anyway? If women now see sex as transactional through their celebration of contraception and abortion, why can’t they give it to men as a favor if men who are in positions of power want it in return for a promotion at work?

This is the kind of sexual psychology that has taken root in our culture as a result of following the Sexual Revolution’s line of reasoning to its logical end. As Klein so aptly put it: “When a system creates an outcome this consistently, this predictably, in this many different spaces, you have to at least consider the possibility that the outcome is intended, that the system is working as designed.”

Unfortunately, progressives like Klein still fail to see the connection between unattached sex and a sexually entitled culture. For them, it seems as though something in our culture has suddenly gone terribly awry, as if they have been blindsided by the pervasive reality of sexual sin. For believers, however, there is nothing new to see here: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In other words, sexual sin has been occurring since the beginning of time, and it will continue unless people turn from their wicked ways and instead seek God’s ways and His salvation.

The problem for progressives is that they can never appeal to a higher law in order to promote virtuous behavior; they must instead resort to begging and cajoling the culture into behaving in accord with vague, politically correct rules that society has deemed acceptable, and if that doesn’t work, to legislate virtue. “There are efforts to change this culture through both law and regulation,” Klein says. He then rehashes his support for the enactment of a “yes means yes” law that would codify the establishment of verbal consent before any perceived sexual contact takes place between two individuals.

Instead of getting to the root causes of societal problems, which is our only hope of solving anything, Klein predictably defaults to the progressive line of thinking, which is to avoid root causes for fear of offending someone and instead offer bromides about laws and regulations that must be enacted. So let’s avoid that trap. What is at the root of why sexual harassment and assault occur?

It is because some men do not respect the dignity of women, and instead see them as an object of sexual desire that they have a right to use in order to satisfy their own desires. But what if more boys were taught from an early age that the context for the full expression of human sexuality is within the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman, as Christianity and other religions do? If this teaching were to be taught consistently throughout childhood and young adulthood, it would substantially increase the amount of gentlemen in our culture. Gentlemen treat women with respect, the kind of respect that inherently knows how to avoid looking at women with lust (see Matthew 5:27-28), the kind of respect that would never even consider making unseemly sexual comments in their company, much less harassing or assaulting them. This kind of respect can only develop when sexually exploitive media is avoided like the plague, and self-discipline is honed through the example of the saints in Scripture and throughout history.

When boys and young men are instead mostly left to their own devices, they naturally give in to their broken human nature and rebel against our Creator’s plan for human sexuality (see the third chapter of Genesis). The results of this negligence have become an absolute nightmare—a culture filled with boys in men’s bodies and wounded women with tragically low standards, a culture that continues to writhe in the putrid, pervasive muck of vile pornography that clogs the internet, sexually exploitive mainstream TV shows that fill the screens of living rooms every night, and the depressing normalcy of cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, contraception, STDs, abortion, and yes, sexual harassment and assault.

Progressives like Klein seem to finally be realizing the extent of this nightmare. Do they, and do we, have the courage to embrace our Creator’s plan and fight for sexual purity in our own lives and those of our children, thereby serving as a witness to truth and spreading this truth to a broken culture in desperate need of healing?

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