Actor and television personality Mario Lopez is facing backlash for saying it’s “dangerous” for parents to support children who identify as transgender.
The father of three and co-host of the entertainment news program "Extra" made the comments during a June appearance on “The Candace Owens Show,” a PragerU YouTube series, but his comments only recently attracted attention on social media.
During the 40-minute interview, Owens, a conservative commentator, noted that Lopez’s son has “boyish” interests, and that it struck her as “a weird trend” that some celebrities, like Charlize Theron, are allowing their children to choose their gender identity.
Owens said that as a former nanny, she believes children do not possess the “mental authority” to express a gender identity different than the one they were assigned at birth and compared children claiming transgender identity to them pretending to be a superhero or a mermaid, a childhood act of make-believe.
“I’m kind of blown away, too,” Lopez responded. “I’m never one to tell anyone how to parent their kids, obviously, and I think if you come from a place of love, you really can’t go wrong, but at the same time, my God, if you're 3 years old and you’re saying you’re feeling a certain way or you think you’re a boy or a girl or whatever the case may be, I just think it's dangerous as a parent to make that determination."
“It's sort of alarming, and my gosh, I just think about the repercussions later on,” he continued.
Lopez and Owens then conflated gender identity and sexual orientation, with Lopez saying, “When you’re a kid ... you don’t know anything about sexuality yet. You’re just a kid."
On Wednesday, however, Lopez backtracked on his controversial comments. In a statement shared with NBC News, he said his remarks were "ignorant and insensitive" and added that he now has "a deeper understanding of how hurtful they were."
“I have been and always will be an ardent supporter of the LGBTQ community, and I am going to use this opportunity to better educate myself," Lopez said. "Moving forward I will be more informed and thoughtful.”
"Extra" producers released a statement on Wednesday's show that said while they have had a long relationship with Lopez, the views he reflected are not representative of the show.
"We wholeheartedly embrace our friends from the LGBTQ community and believe they deserve support and love," the statement said.
Lopez was not on Wednesday evening's episode of "Extra."
'Misconceptions surrounding gender identity'
Christia Spears Brown, a social psychology professor at the University of Kentucky and author of “Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue,” told NBC News that the views Lopez shared on "The Candace Owens Show" are “common” and replete with “misconceptions surrounding gender identity.”
“People commonly say that it’s dangerous for children to explore something other than the traditional boy or girl paradigm,” Brown said. “They say that veering from the stereotypes confuses kids and that kids need these structures or there will be mass hysteria.”
She recalled when Target stopped labeling its toys with “boys” and “girls” signs and faced backlash.
“But trotting out this tired argument ignores the realities of many children who don’t fit neatly into the binary box,” Brown said. “Some children are transgender, but some just present their gender expression differently than stereotypical expectations.”
Brown added that it is dangerous to not allow children to express themselves, as this can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and difficulties in school.
Nearly 40 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered it, according to The Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.
Lopez identifies as a conservative, but he has been a visible ally of the LGBTQ community in the past. The television star was a presenter at the 2011 and 2012 GLAAD Media Awards and was grand marshal of the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade in 2015.
Yet since “The Candace Owens Show” interview has surfaced, Lopez has faced a backlash from many in the LGBTQ community.
"Medical and psychological experts, and parents of children who are transgender, have long discredited the ideas that @MarioLopezExtra shared," LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD wrote on Twitter. "The real dangerous action is when someone with a public platform uses bad science to speak against a vulnerable group of children."
The organization said it reached out to "Extra" and that the program stated its showrunners do not share the views Lopez articulated on "The Candace Owens Show" and will make that clear on Wednesday night's show.
"It's unfortunate that someone who is so involved with GLAAD like Mario Lopez would be so misinformed about trans kids," Alexandra Halaby, a board member of the Trans United Fund, wrote on Twitter, adding that Lopez should reach out to GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis for "some guidance on the difference between sex and gender identity."
PFLAG, the national organization for friends, family and allies of LGBTQ people, was also critical of Lopez’s comments and offered to educate him.
“It’s okay @MarioLopezExtra. We’re here to help provide more education on what being #transgender means, the difference between #sexualorientation, #sex, and #gender... and a whole lot of other things,” the organization wrote.
During his interview with Owens, Lopez also stated that social media campaigns like #MeToo and #BelieveWomen are dangerous "because people lie — and sometimes those people are women.”
“God forbid you have a son out there and a girl may have felt a certain way about a situation — dismissed, hurt, whatever — and is feeling vengeful," Lopez said.
Lopez was accused of sexually assaulting two women in 1993, but prosecutors did not pursue charges.
“Lopez’s comments are dangerous,” Brown said of his remarks about gender identity and expression. “They contribute to and foster a cultural climate that allows for discrimination.”
“If you care about kids, you’ll empower them and support their gender identity,” she added.