Metro Weekly

Amazon bans books that call LGBTQ identity a “mental illness”

Shopping giant confirmed it had pulled transgender-critical book "When Harry Became Sally" because it violated its guidelines

amazon, books, lgbtq, when harry became sally
Photo: Christian Wiediger, via Unsplash

Online retail giant Amazon has confirmed that it will no longer sell books that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

It comes after a book that “challenges the transgender movement,” When Harry Became Sally, was removed from sale earlier this year.

Written by conservative political philosopher Ryan T. Anderson, the 2018 book criticizes gender-confirmation surgery, platforms those who have detransitioned, and advocates therapy to convince people to remain in the gender they were assigned at birth.

In February, Amazon notified the book’s publisher, Encounter Books, that Anderson’s work violated its publishing guidelines and it had been removed from sale.

That drew raised eyebrows from anti-LGBTQ Republican Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Josh Hawley (R-MO), who wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding an explanation.

They asked Bezos why the “rigorously researched and compassionately argued” book had been deleted from Amazon, claiming that the company had “unabashedly wielded its outsized market share to silence an important voice merely for the crime of violating woke groupthink.”

The senators complained that Amazon had “openly signaled to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms.”

“Amazon’s shortsighted censorship of this well-researched and thoughtful contribution to modern American discourse is not just a decision made in poor taste,” they wrote, “but an assault on free speech that carries weighty implications for the future of open discourse in the digital age.”

The senators asked why Amazon had only now removed the book after three years on sale, and asked if it was removed as “part of a broader campaign against conservative material and voices on Amazon’s platforms.”

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, responded to the senators last week, telling them that Amazon has “chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

Huseman said that Amazon provides its customers with “access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable.”

“That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content,” Huseman wrote. “All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, as do we.”

After Huseman’s response, When Harry Became Sally‘s author took to Twitter to accuse the company of not reading his book and instead relying on “hit pieces” in its decision to remove it from sale.

“As I pointed out before: ‘Please quote the passage where I ‘call them mentally ill,’” Anderson tweeted. “You can’t quote that passage because it doesn’t exist.”

Anderson and Encounter Books publisher Roger Kimball issued a statement to the Wall Street Journal saying, “Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering.”

“There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria,” they said.

According to The Advocate, Anderson has a history of opposing LGBTQ rights, including openly criticizing the Equality Act, a landmark piece of LGBTQ rights legislation, and opposing same-sex marriage.

While he believes When Harry Became Sally to be “an important contribution” to the debate over transgender rights, Anderson’s book caused outrage for referring to transgender people as a “fad,” for refusing to use the legal names of any transgender people in his book, as well as relying on experts with anti-LGBTQ ties.

However, conservatives aren’t the only ones concerned about the removal of When Harry Became Sally.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, which counts the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal among its coalition members, said it was “deeply concerned” about Amazon’s decision to remove the book from sale.

“While the book’s arguments anger many people, they are part of the public debate over gender identity,” NCAC said in a statement. “Amazon’s decision to stop selling it threatens the marketplace of ideas.”

NCAC noted that Amazon has a “First Amendment right to sell whatever it wants,” but said that the company had failed to define “what it considers hateful or offensive content” and might lead to a book being removed from sale.

“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,” NCAC said. “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.”

This isn’t the first time that Amazon has drawn ire from conservatives. In 2019, the company removed books on conversion therapy by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a man known as the “father” of the harmful practice.

Republican members of Congress were outraged, accusing Amazon of “censorship” and encouraging colleagues to contact the company and demand the books were reinstated for sale.

However, Amazon has also drawn ire from LGBTQ advocates. Last year, it was found that the company’s charitable donation program, AmazonSmile, allowed donations to more than 40 U.S.-based organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights or support conversion therapy efforts.

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