Amazon has ceased selling books that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” a spokesman for the company says.
The announcement came in response to an inquiry from four Republican U.S. senators about why When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment was no longer available on Amazon, The Wall Street Journal reports. The 2018 book by conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson argues against gender-transition procedures, highlights people who regret having undergone them, and says there are better ways to deal with gender dysphoria, such as counseling to help people become comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth.
The inquiry, directed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, came from Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Mike Braun of Indiana after Amazon removed the book a few weeks ago. “When Harry Became Sally prompted important discussions in the national media and among policymakers in 2018, and remains one of the most rigorously researched and compassionately argued books on this subject,” they wrote to Amazon in the letter, obtained by the Journal. “By removing this book from its marketplaces and services, Amazon has unabashedly wielded its outsized market share to silence an important voice merely for the crime of violating woke groupthink.” (The full Journal story and the letter are available to subscribers only, but The Hill has a summary.)
Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, responded Thursday, writing, “As to your specific question about When Harry Became Sally, we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” He wrote that Amazon provides “access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable,” adding, “That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, as do we.” It isn’t clear what other books will be affected. In recent years Amazon has discontinued some items LGBTQ+ consumers found objectionable, such as “Straight Pride” badges.
Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former Heritage Foundation fellow, responded with a statement on the website for his publisher, Encounter Books. “Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” he wrote. “There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria. When Harry Became Sally is an important contribution, praised by medical experts, to that conversation.
“No good comes from shutting down a debate about important matters on which reasonable people of good will disagree. Amazon is using its massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas and is deceiving its own customers in the process.”
Regardless of what one thinks about Amazon’s decision, it’s questionable that there’s a debate about treatment for gender dysphoria, at least among health care providers. “Every major medical association in the United States recognizes the medical necessity of transition-related care for improving the physical and mental health of transgender people and has called for health insurance coverage for treatment of gender dysphoria,” notes an American Medical Association issue brief. Such care may or may not include surgery, which some but not all trans people opt for.
Anderson has been a longtime opponent of LGBTQ+ rights measures; he opposed marriage equality and is an outspoken critic of the Equality Act. He has said marriage is based on the complementarity of men and women and that recognition of LGBTQ+ equality will lead to persecution of people with different beliefs. Regarding the Amazon matter, he wrote recently in the journal First Things, “If you fear what Big Tech can do if you dissent from gender ideology, just wait to see what Big Government will do if the so-called Equality Act becomes law.”
Several LGBTQ+ writers published strong critiques of When Harry Became Sally when it came out, but they did not call for its removal from the marketplace. Author and academic Jennifer Finney Boylan, who is transgender, wrote in The New York Times that the book “suggests that transgender people are crazy” (Anderson says it does not) and “is abundant in junk science.” She added, “Anderson appears not to have spoken to a single well-adjusted transgender individual throughout what I’m sure were his many minutes of meticulous research.”
Conservatives, including some of the senators, questioned Amazon’s move by saying it’s still selling controversial, even hateful books such as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. (One edition it lists, however, includes an introduction by Jewish activist Abraham Foxman, who makes clear the repugnant nature of the text while noting that evil must not be ignored, and proceeds from the sale benefit Jewish organizations.)
But anti-censorship groups are critical of Amazon’s action too. One of them is the National Coalition Against Censorship, made up of organizations with varying viewpoints, including LGBTQ+ rights champions such as the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and Lambda Legal; it has often denounced removal of LGBTQ+ books from libraries and, indeed, Amazon. In an online statement regarding Anderson’s book, the coalition expressed concern, saying, “While the book’s arguments anger many people, they are part of the public debate over gender identity. Amazon’s decision to stop selling it threatens the marketplace of ideas.”
“Amazon has a First Amendment right to sell whatever books it wants,” the coalition continued, but added, “Amazon is not like other booksellers. It sells more than half of all print books and a significant share of e-books and audio books in the United States. This gives the company an outsized role in shaping opinion and discourse. When Amazon decides to remove a book, it matters not only to the author and their publisher, but to the entire public sphere.”