Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, had just been officially appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Tuesday afternoon when he took to his radio show “Washington Watch” to smear transgender people. Offering up a brand new way to call trans people mentally ill, the hate group leader compared being transgender to someone imagining they’re a bird-man about to jump off a building.
“If you are a male — genetically you are a male, biologically you’re a male — and you say, ‘Well, I’m not a male. I’m a female.’ I mean, what’s to keep you from saying you’re an animal?” Perkins asked.
Think about this for a minute. Someone says, “Well look, I’m a bird-man, alright? I’m a bird-man and I’m going to jump off this building and fly.” Do you have a responsibility to stop that person from jumping off that building? I mean, you know that they don’t have feathers and they can’t fly, but you would hurt their feelings if you said, “No wait, Fred, you’re not a bird-man. You’re a man but you’re not a bird and you can’t fly.” But out of respect for not hurting his feelings, you go ahead and let him jump, and that was the end of Fred.
That’s again the lunacy, because the reality is when we allow kids, people, to identify with something other than reality, it is ultimately hurting themselves.
Right Wing Watch captured the audio:
Any attempt to demonize transgender people as mentally ill is problematic, but Perkins’ bird-man metaphor is particularly shameful. Studies have shown that trans people have far greater rates of suicide than the general public, and those same studies found that it’s not because they’re trans, but because of how they’re treated for being trans. Discrimination, rejection, violence, and stigma are the significant factors that contribute to depression, substance abuse, and other suicidal indicators.
Transgender people have existed throughout history, and decades of studies have demonstrated that being trans is a natural variation of humanity, and that affirming trans people in their gender identity is the best way to support them. In Perkins’ absurd bird-man analogy, he justifies denying the bird-man’s identity in order to save him, ignoring the evidence that rejecting trans people in just the same way way is exactly what will cause them the most harm.
Over the last year, Perkins worked with Vice President Mike Pence to orchestrate a ban on transgender people serving in the military. Part of the purported justification for that ban was a wild distortion of one study from Sweden that the administration claimed showed a link between being trans and being suicidal. The lead researcher of that study, however, has repeatedly decried attempts to distort the findings in that way, insisting that they show the very opposite — that discrimination is the link, not simply being trans.
Perkins’ past comments on LGBTQ suicides make it clear that his prerogative is always to justify his anti-LGBTQ bigotry. In 2010, following a spate of suicides by young people who were bullied for being LGBTQ, Perkins insisted, “There’s no correlation between inacceptance of homosexuality and depression and suicide.” He claimed that homosexuality is “abnormal” and that these kids were more likely to be depressed simply because of their internal conflict over being gay. It didn’t seem to dawn on him that he was exacerbating that conflict by rejecting them.
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In 2013, Perkins also claimed that the military’s high suicide rate was somehow the product of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that previously prohibited lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving in the military. He claimed the repeal constituted “social experimentation” and “social engineering” that resulted in “driving Christianity out, putting homosexuality in, suicide rate going through the ceiling.”
The Family Research Council was one of the first anti-LGBTQ groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designated a hate group. Though Perkins and the other groups’ leaders constantly campaign against the SPLC, they never take any accountability for the long history of demonizing LGBTQ people that earned them the “hate group” designation in the first place.
As a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Perkins will have the opportunity to apply his belief that “religious freedom” justifies anti-LGBTQ discrimination on a worldwide scale.