A Mixed Review of Dr. Phil’s Latest Attempt to Cover Transgender Children

January 15, 2009
Dr. Phil McGraw once again tried to tackle the subject of transgender children on his January 13 broadcast. The segment, titled, Little Boy Lost, explored a mother’s journey to understanding her transgender child’s path to living as her true self. In what could have been a solid examination of transgender children through the eyes of a concerned mom seeking answers from qualified experts, Dr. Phil instead chose to add fireworks and manufacture controversy by inviting two unqualified anti-LGBT activists to “debate” two qualified professionals, UCLA child psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel and psychotherapist Dr. Michele Angello, both of whom specialize in transgender issues. That plan backfired as the featured mom, named Toni, spent much of the airtime defending her 11-year-old transgender daughter and angrily confronting Glenn Stanton from the anti-gay organization Focus on the Family and Joseph Nicolosi, an “ex-gay” activist from the discredited fringe organization, NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (you can read about so-called “ex-gay” activists here). Stanton and Nicolosi’s baseless assertion is that that children develop transgender identities when their parents fail to enforce gender roles. It is important to remember that the political and pseudoscientific groups like NARTH do not rely on – and have long been discredited by - credible social science research. There are no modern peer-reviewed studies that support so-called "ex-gay" groups or lend credibility to their outdated and long-abandoned theories about the nature of sexual orientation or gender identity. GLAAD criticized the Dr. Phil Show last year for offering the anti-LGBT Stanton as a professional counterpart to UCLA’s Siegel. To their credit, Dr. Phil producers called GLAAD for resources as they planned this follow-up show, and they took our advice, inviting psychologist Dr. Michele Angello onto the program to join Siegel in the credible part of the dialogue. Although some good information did emerge during the program which supported transgender children being who they are—even a few sound bites from an endocrinologist and a pediatrician from the transgender clinic at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles— the time devoted to refuting the wildly bogus claims of Stanton and Nicolosi took away valuable oportunities to substantively educate the American public on this most important topic. The popular gay blog Good As You summed up the Dr. Phil episode well: The primary problem? That shows like "Dr Phil," with their "neutral ground," facilitate the idea that both sides hold equal merit. While we get and even respect the suggestion to delve into the teachings of the side with which you do not agree, the simple fact is that when you are talking about LGBT matters, those involved in the professional anti-LGBT industry (as both Glenn Stanton and Joseph Nicolosi are) are simply not objective counterpoints! And it's not us being closed-off or intolerant to say that. It's us, as ones who spend every single day analyzing the anti-LGBT movement, presenting our educated findings. GLAAD will continue pitching solid spokespeople like Dr. Michele Angello to the Dr. Phil Show. We will also remind the show that promoting activists like Nicolosi and Stanton and pairing them for debate purposes with credible medical professionals and social scientists simply elevates and legitimizes their discredited claims. Just as when media coverage examines any aspect of the medical sciences, knowing how to differentiate between credible authorities and politically motivated (and usually self-proclaimed) "experts" is crucial for providing accurate information.