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Amazon will not remove book advocates say endangers transgender youth

In “Irreversible Damage,” Abigail Shrier argues youth are being “fast-tracked” into medical transition — a claim experts say isn’t true and harms trans youth.
Image: Orders move down a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y.
Orders move down a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y., on Feb. 5, 2019.Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images file

Amazon is still selling a book that advocates say perpetuates the idea that being transgender is harmful to youth and something to be “cured.”

The book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” by the journalist Abigail Shrier, explores what Shrier calls an “epidemic” of young girls coming out as trans.

“A generation of girls is at risk,” the Amazon description of the book reads. “Abigail Shrier’s essential book will help you understand what the trans craze is and how you can inoculate your child against it — or how to retrieve her from this dangerous path.”

Dozens of Amazon employees, including some who are LGBTQ, filed an internal complaint in April arguing that the book violates Amazon’s policy against selling books “that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” according to The Seattle Times, which received images of the complaint.

Image: "Irreversible Damage," by Abigail Shrier.
"Irreversible Damage," by Abigail Shrier.Regnery Publishing

But on April 23, the company’s director of book content risk and quality announced on an internal message board that Amazon would continue to sell the book.

“After examining the content of the book in detail and calibrating with senior leadership, we have confirmed that it does not violate our content policy,” the director wrote, according to The Seattle Times.

Not everyone on the board that reviewed the book agreed with the company’s decision. The Seattle Times cited Slack messages in which at least one employee involved in the review process said, “We told them it’s transphobic and needs to be removed.”

An Amazon spokesperson told NBC News in an email, “As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to written speech and a variety of viewpoints is one of the most important things we do — even when those viewpoints differ from our own or Amazon’s stated positions.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has vocally supported LGBTQ rights in the past. In 2012, he donated $2.5 million to advocates fighting for marriage equality. The company also recently joined a list of businesses that support the Equality Act — a bill that would provide LGBTQ people with federal protections from discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations and other areas of life. Amazon also signed on to a recent Human Rights Campaign letter condemning states that pass anti-LGBTQ legislation, including bills that target transgender youth.

Shrier has defended the book’s content, writing on Twitter with a link to The Seattle Times article about Amazon’s decision, “Anyone who thinks my book ‘advances a narrative of transgender identity as a disease’ hasn't read it, or is a bona fide idiot.”

She writes in the book’s introduction that it is “not about transgender adults,” but about what she says is an increasing number of children assigned female at birth identifying as transgender. She told The Seattle Times that her book doesn’t take a stance against transitioning for adults in any way, but that she opposes the “fast-tracking of youth” into medical transition.

Shrier did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Trans advocates and physicians who treat trans youth oppose Shrier’s book because they say it poses a danger to youth and spreads misinformation. Medical experts have said that trans minors are never “fast-tracked” into medical transition. Rather, international medical guidance recommends that prepubertal youth socially transition and receive mental health therapy.

Dr. Jack Turban, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he researches the mental health of transgender youth, said the book “promotes the idea that transgender youth are ‘confused’ and that gender diversity is something to be ‘cured.’”

“Every relevant major medical organization (The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Psychiatric Association, and The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, to name a few) disagrees with this position,” Turban said in an email. “A recent study from our group found that attempts to force transgender people to be cisgender are strongly associated with suicide attempts.”

The ideas in Shrier’s book, Turban said, could have negative effects on the mental health of transgender youth. “Research consistently shows that family rejection of a young person’s gender identity is a major predictor of bad mental health outcomes, including suicide attempts,” Turban said. “This book promotes that kind of family rejection. I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous that is from a public mental health perspective.”

In November, Target said it would remove Shrier’s book from shelves after backlash from LGBTQ advocates. But it reversed that decision after critics said it was suppressing Shrier’s free speech rights. At the time, trans people and advocates condemned Target’s decision.

Shrier and her book faced criticism again when she testified against the Equality Act during a Senate hearing in March.

But she has also received a wave of support in part from people who argue that books of any kind should not be censored.

Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union and a law professor at the New York Law School, said she hasn’t read Shrier’s book, but “it doesn’t matter” to her what the book says — she thinks it should continue to be published and sold as a matter of free speech.

She said she recently tried to persuade a publisher to keep publishing “Mien Kampf,” Hitler’s autobiography, “and it's not despite the fact that my father barely survived the Holocaust — it's because of that fact,” Strossen said, adding that she believes free speech is “the most effective way to expand rights and safety and dignity for any individual or group, but, in particular, those who have traditionally been marginalized and oppressed.”

No matter how well intended, suppression of speech does more harm than good, Strossen said. First, she argued that it gives the person being censored and their speech even more attention. Second, she said people who are anti-trans can make people like Shrier “martyrs for free speech.”

She said suppression can also create what’s called the forbidden fruits effect or the Streisand effect — after Barbra Streisand, who, in 2003, tried to have photos of her Malibu house taken off of the internet, which sparked more public interest in the photos.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, that idea … people who are trying to suppress it must be really threatened by the idea, let me look into it,’” Strossen said of what happens when ideas or speech are suppressed. “And so the idea, paradoxically, gains credibility.”

She said she believes “the more dangerous an idea,” the more important it is for the idea to be understood and responded to by those who can explain why it’s wrong and dangerous.

In the case of Shrier’s book, Strossen said, it’s important that people who support trans young people can show that “if you truly care about the health and lives and mental health and physical health and equal well being and dignity of these young people, that these ideas are wrong and misguided.”

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