The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) has a perfect name. It sounds weighty and significant. It connotes expertise. It looks good in print.
But in reality, the name functions as a façade of respectability for a small association of pediatricians that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled “an anti-LGBT hate group.”
ACPeds is a favored citation among the far right because the organization disagrees with most major medical associations on LGBT and other social issues. It is not the leading organization for U.S. pediatricians. That would be the similarly named American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has 64,000 members. The much smaller ACPeds was founded in 2002 to protest the AAP’s support for same-sex adoption.
But despite its small size, the Gainesville, Florida-based ACPeds makes frequent appearances in conservative news articles, especially stories about LGBT issues.
ACPeds recently published a position statement arguing that transgender health care for youth is a form of “child abuse.” Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and The Blaze promptly published that claim without contrasting their primary source with the AAP. The truth is that most major professional organizations in the health care industry affirm the validity of transgender identity and that the AAP supports transgender youth.
This is far from the first time that ACPeds has been the darling of a conservative media desperate to undermine scientific consensus.
Another recent Breitbart story sourced from an ACPeds press release promoted the myth that there is a “strong link” between abortion and breast cancer. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have found no evidence to support this association (PDF), which is often peddled by abortion opponents to frighten women.
When a Utah judge reversed his decision to remove a foster child from the care of a Utah lesbian couple last November, Breitbart cited ACPeds to argue “that children need both a mother and father in order to experience healthy development.” However, 73 of 77 scholarly studies on this subject found that children with same-sex parents “fare no worse than other children,” according to a comprehensive Columbia Law School review. The four studies that came to a different conclusion were methodologically flawed.
And, last year, when ACPeds referred to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage as “a tragic day for America’s children,” subsequent news reports gave some readers reason to believe that medical professionals were concerned about the effects of same-sex parenting on children. In fact, the AAP supports same-sex marriage and parenting.
An AAP spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the organization has no official comment on ACPeds. But the spokesperson was quick to emphasize the AAP’s support for LGBT youth. The AAP even co-wrote a letter to U.S. governors opposing the recent wave of legislation targeting transgender students’ access to bathrooms and locker rooms (PDF).
The AAP and ACPeds differ on this and many other issues. The latter group opposes comprehensive sex education, preferring an abstinence-only approach. They decry efforts to ban the dangerous practice of conversion therapy on LGBT minors. They are defenders of “traditional marriage” and strict opponents of abortion rights. The group’s “About Us” page makes repeated references to the “father-mother family unit,” which it believes to be “the optimal setting for childhood development.”
But despite its sharp deviation from the AAP and other professional associations, ACPeds still sees itself as a scientific organization beleaguered by political correctness.
“[ACPeds] has documented the politically incorrect science addressing many ‘hot button’ social issues of our day,” ACPeds president Dr. Michelle Cretella told The Daily Beast in an email, brushing aside the SPLC’s comments on the group as “ad hominem attacks” that ignore the group’s science.
“Scientific facts may be politically incorrect and unwelcome,” she wrote, “but in and of themselves they are not hateful.”
It is not clear how many physicians belong to ACPeds. In 2012, the SPLC estimated it has about 200 members, which would mean it is about 300 times smaller than the AAP. Cretella did not answer a direct question about the association’s membership count.
“It matters not whether we have hundreds of members across the nation or several thousand members across the nation,” she wrote in response. “The sterilization of children is unethical regardless of how many support it, what credentials follow their names, or the number of professional organizations to which they belong.”
Her sterilization comments are a reference to medical treatment for transgender youth, who can take puberty blockers at a young age under a physician’s care. But, as the AAP notes, the effects of puberty blockers are “completely reversible when the medications are stopped.” The fertility of transgender youth is only affected if, as teenagers, they consult with a doctor and begin taking hormones that match their gender identity.
Cretella also told The Daily Beast that many ACPeds pediatricians “still are or have been members of the AAP” and that the larger group’s position statements do not necessarily reflect the views of all of its members.
“The AAP does not speak for its 60,000 members, let alone all pediatricians,” she said.
That doesn’t stop conservative journalists from pretending as if ACPeds speaks for a substantial body of pediatricians.
“[T]hanks to its deceptive name—which makes it sound as if it is the mainstream professional organization for pediatricians—ACPeds often serves as a supposedly scientific source for groups pushing utter falsehoods about LGBT people,” the SPLC’s Ryan Lenz observed in 2012.
Breitbart recently referred to it as “the professional association of pediatricians.” The Daily Caller simply quoted its mission statement for a March story. Often the organization is left to stand on its name alone, as if it were a known quantity like the CDC or the FBI instead of the small conservative group that the slightest investigation would reveal it to be.
On its webpage, ACPeds simply describes itself as “a national organization of pediatricians and other healthcare professionals dedicated to the health and well-being of children” and that description is often taken at face value. Dig any deeper and the illusion of political neutrality would be shattered.
But Cretella told The Daily Beast that she does not believe the name gives a false impression of the legitimacy of the association’s claims.
“Our name states exactly what and who we are: a national scientific organization of pediatric physicians and health care providers dedicated to the best for children, not funded by commercial interests, as is the AAP,” she said.
The group’s name will likely mislead far-right journalists and readers alike for some time to come. But in a sense, the stubborn persistence of ACPeds citations could be interpreted as a sign of progress. If this is the only medical association that anti-LGBT media outlets can find to support their arguments, the broader battle is clearly over.