Tucker Carlson hosted a coalition of anti-trans advocates from the evangelical right and a fake feminist group
Video ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY
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Panelists included “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” and anti-trans medical professionals who pushed flawed research and advocated for conversion therapy
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades, hosted its fourth anti-transgender panel of the year on April 8. Each of the four panels focused on a different aspect of trans equality, such as comprehensive nondiscrimination measures, affirming medical care for transgender youth, trans inclusion in international policy, and trans participation in athletics. The panels also featured biased anti-trans figures -- whom Heritage characterized as subject experts -- who pushed right-wing narratives about transgender people.
Heritage’s surge in anti-transgender events and its increased attempts to shape public discourse about trans rights come at a strategic time as Congress considers expanding federal civil rights laws to include critical protections for trans folks. The Equality Act, introduced on March 13, would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination protections in “employment, housing, public accomodations,” and other areas. The measure was quickly met with opposition and fearmongering from extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media. Heritage’s panels echoed many of the anti-trans talking points pushed by these groups and outlets.
On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ activist Ryan T. Anderson hosted so-called "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs) and self-proclaimed liberals in a panel focused on railing against the inclusion of gender identity in the Equality Act. TERFs refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists”; they generally do not associate themselves with the term TERFs, but they are anti-trans activists who have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities.
One of the panelists, adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco Hacsi Horvath, says he formerly identified as transgender. During the panel, he encouraged the audience to misgender trans folks -- an act that is considered harassment and that can stigmatize trans people, lower their self-esteem, and erase and invalidate their identities.
Another panelist, Julia Beck, appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight after participating in the Heritage panel and pushed the same anti-trans points about the Equality Act. Beck was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus.
The two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has supported the clients of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.
On March 20, Heritage co-hosted another anti-trans panel: a “side event” with the Permanent Observer Mission to the Holy See at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The U.N. CSW is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” During the panel, participants claimed that “gender ideology” -- a “theory drummed up by hard-right religious activists, who present it as a gay- and feminist-led movement out to upend the traditional family and the natural order of society” -- is a threat to women’s rights around the world.
One panelist, Dr. Monique Robles, who brought a veneer of credibility to the panel as a medical doctor who focuses on pediatric care, pushed the unvalidated hypothesis of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” and a study promoting the concept was reevaluated and corrected following complaints about its research and methodology. The correction noted that the study only “serves to develop hypotheses” and that the concept has not been validated. Robles also seemingly praised the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, remarking:
A better treatment option would be to address the underlying mental health issues and concerns that are likely leading to these children in adolescence to identify as transgender or gender diverse. There are therapists who are taking on the role as compassionate companions and are spending time with their patients and their parents working through histories, experiences, and addressing the whole of the individual. In this form of therapy, the body, mind, and soul can be brought together in a unified manner in which they were created.
Panelist Emilie Kao, director of Heritage's Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society, argued that including “gender identity” in international policy and in U.N. resolutions is a threat to the progress of women’s equality. She said, “If the word ‘woman’ can be redefined to mean everyone, then it will change or even erase the true meaning of woman in international human rights law, in economic development efforts, and in efforts to increase access to social protection systems.” Framing transgender rights as at odds with women’s rights is a tactic conservatives have increasingly employed that also mirrors talking points from TERFs.
Heritage’s Anderson continued that trend, also claiming trans rights are detriments to women's equality, safety, and privacy. Another panelist, Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Catholic Women’s Forum, echoed these sentiments and claimed that affirming trans identities has a “dehumanizing effect on women, where women are no longer acknowledged as persons” and that “the result is that real women are being displaced.”
On March 28, Anderson hosted a third anti-trans panel, titled "The Medical Harms of Hormonal and Surgical Interventions for Gender Dysphoric Children,” featuring medical professionals who used flawed research to fearmonger about and attack trans-affirming medical care. These claims are in direct opposition to the positions of leading medical associations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, which "agree that gender-affirming care are the most effective treatment for gender dysphoria,” according to CNN.
During the panel, “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer, a darling of anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media, railed against affirming trans identities, calling it “child abuse,” “destructive,” and “damaging.” He also encouraged the use of conversion therapy for transgender people.
Other panelists included Dr. Michael K. Laidlaw, a vocal anti-trans advocate who has also been featured in right-wing outlets, and a mother of a trans child who wished to remain anonymous, who they called “Elaine.” Elaine is also a member of a new anti-trans advocacy group for parents of trans children called The Kelsey Coalition. During the panel, Elaine criticized laws that protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and Laidlaw advocated against the use of puberty blockers, calling them “a chemical conversion therapy.” Puberty blockers “are medicines that prevent puberty from happening” in order to help transgender youths’ bodies “better reflect who [they] are.” Studies have shown that they are effective and safe and recommend their use on transgender youth who decide to use them with the help of medical providers.
For its fourth anti-trans panel in 2019, Heritage co-hosted an event on April 8 with anti-LGBTQ group Concerned Women For America, which seeks to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” The panel advocated against allowing trans athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports that align with their gender identity. Heritage’s Kao hosted the panel, opening by reciting a quote that the Equality Act would be “the end of women’s sports.”
The panel began with a video featuring panelist Bianca Stanescu’s daughter, a student athlete who lost a track meet that made headlines when two trans athletes earned top prizes. Right-wing media, including Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, have touted this story as a reason to not allow transgender athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports. Media Matters’ Parker Molloy previously wrote about how figures like Carlson regularly seize on local stories like this to fuel the identity politics-driven culture war, and Heritage has similarly focused on this rare incident (transgender athletes are not dominating sports on a wide scale) to justify widespread discrimination.
Another panelist, National Review’s Madeleine Kearns, repeatedly misgendered trans athletes and showed pictures of trans athletes before and after affirming medical care to fearmonger about their physical abilities. There is ongoing debate on the standards for trans inclusion in athletics, much of which is led by the International Olympic Committee. In 2016, the IOC updated guidelines on transgender athletes, leaving “no restriction for a trans man … to compete against men” and removing “the need for women to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete.” IOC has several restrictions for transgender women to compete in the Olympics, including demonstrating a certain level of testosterone for at least one year, and it is continuing to fund research into this area. As Outsports noted, “Despite the guidelines, no publicly out trans athlete has competed in the Olympics. Ever.” This stands in contrast to right-wing claims that trans athletes are dominating their field due to competitive advantages.
A third panelist, Jennifer S. Bryson, is the founder of a sports advocacy organization called Let All Play that argues against pride jerseys celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month on sports teams. Bryson criticized the pride jerseys issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation and said requiring players to wear the jerseys was “a form of coerced speech requiring players to wear a political symbol.” She went on to call transgender people “a threat to soccer itself for girls and women,” adding that “the U.S. Soccer Federation should not require players to wear a symbol of a movement that is trying to harm soccer.”
Additionally, Concerned Women for America’s Doreen Denny announced during the panel that the organization has partnered with TERF group WoLF to lobby against the Equality Act even though they “disagree on many things.” Denny also misgendered trans athletes during the panel and at one point corrected herself to intentionally misgender a female athlete after using the correct pronoun the first time, saying, “She has taken -- he, excuse me.”
Heritage’s panels are just one aspect of its work against trans equality. Heritage’s Anderson organized an anti-trans conference reportedly attended by 250 attendees at the Franciscan University of Steubenville from April 4 to 5. The conference was called “Transgender Moment: A Natural Law Response to Gender Ideology,” and it focused on so-called “corruption and flawed science driving an increase in gender ‘transitioning’ and ‘reassignments’” and compared transgender equality to the dystopian novel 1984.
Additionally, Heritage’s Monica Burke penned an April 10 anti-trans op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, and the group’s work this year has been consistently picked up and parroted by several right-wing and evangelical media outlets. And though mainstream and queer outlets have written about Heritage’s January 28 TERF panel, the right-wing has dominated coverage of the rest of the anti-trans panels.
Despite its record, Heritage somehow enjoys some mainstream credibility. Earlier this month, Google disbanded its Artificial Intelligence ethics board after “little over a week” because it selected Heritage President Kay Coles James as one of its board members. Google employees and others protested her inclusion because of her and Heritage’s positions against trans equality.
Though the Heritage Foundation’s practice of hosting anti-trans advocates and pushing anti-trans narratives is not new, the frequency and breadth of its events this year are alarming. Heritage’s attempt to shape public discourse on the Equality Act and the transgender community is another example of the right’s attempt to position trans rights as counter to those of women and to fracture the LGBTQ movement by excluding trans folks from it. Such groups deploy a similar "divide and conquer" strategy to create a false dichotomy between people of faith and LGBTQ rights, despite the fact that most faith groups support LGBTQ inclusion.
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While national news was airing longtime Trump fixer and attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House oversight committee, transgender service members testified in front of Congress for the first time about the Trump-Pence administration’s ban on transgender service members.
On January 22, the Supreme Court allowed the ban to proceed while it is considered by lower courts. According to the National Center For Transgender Equality, it is estimated that more than 134,000 veterans and 15,000 current service members identify as transgender.
A month after the Supreme Court’s decision -- and for the first time in history -- active duty, out trans service members and their allies addressed Congress about the harmful impacts of the Trump-Pence ban and highlighted how the policy contradicts medical and scientific consensus.
Here are some of their most powerful statements from the February 27 hearing:
Capt. Jennifer Peace: President Donald Trump’s tweets announcing the ban made me question why “risk my life again when the people that I am serving do not even want me here?”
REP. LORI TRAHAN (D-MA): We’ve all gone through parts of our career where, you know, we’ve faced difficulties. So, I’d love for you to share with us maybe some of your more difficult times in the military, and in that moment, it would be nice to know, was it being transgender that held your back? Or was it just a difficult time in the military?
CAPT. JENNIFER PEACE: The second [most difficult time] was when I was on leave. I was actually enjoying a little bit of a vacation when I woke up to the tweets from the president of the United States, and I think it was at that moment that I for the first time really questioned why am I still waking up and putting on this uniform when time and time again I am told that I am not able to serve? Why should I wait around to deploy and risk my life again when the people that I am serving do not even want me here?
Peace: If trans folks “are told they are not good enough to serve the United States military, then now the entire United States sees trans people as somehow less.”
PEACE: I think it’s also important to look at how this is going to affect the broader population. Whether deserved or not, there is a hero culture that has risen in the military over the last decade. All of us get thanked for our service and called heroes almost every day that we go out amongst the public. Officers and noncommissioned officers in the military are regularly rated as some of the most respected professions in the United States. So now if transgender people can no longer join the military, if they can’t be awarded Meritorious Service Medals, Purple Hearts; if they can’t deploy around the world; if they are told they are not good enough to serve the United States military, then now the entire United States sees trans people as somehow less.
Staff Sgt. Patricia King: “My authenticity inspired that of my soldiers, along with strong leadership, and hard work, and solid training.”
STAFF SGT. PATRICIA KING: My authenticity inspired that of my soldiers, along with strong leadership, and hard work, and solid training. We built cohesion in a way that I have never seen in my 19 years of service. That’s the value of inclusion. That’s the value of having open trans service. From austere conditions in the field to deployed conditions in combat to life in the barracks, I have witnessed firsthand that troops want strong leaders, leaders who care about them, leaders who can inspire them. They don’t care if that soldier is trans. They don’t care if that leader is gay or bi, white or black, male or female. And they don’t care which bathroom or shower you use. The question that resounds in their mind are, can you do your job and accomplish your mission? Can you put rounds on target in the heat of battle? Can you look out for your troops’ best interests? If a soldier’s leader can do those things, everything else really doesn’t matter.
American Medical Association’s Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld: “There is no medically valid reason ... to exclude transgender individuals from military service.”
DR. JESSE EHRENFELD: I would like to state unequivocally for the record that there is no medically valid reason, including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, to exclude transgender individuals from military service. This is the position of most major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, all of whom disagree with the Department of Defense’s rationale for a transgender ban.
A major report -- noted by Chairwoman Speier earlier -- by several retired military surgeons generals rejected the Department of Defense’s rationale for exclusion, concluding that the Department of Defense’s report is contradicted by ample evidence clearly demonstrating that transition-related care is effective [and] that transgender personnel diagnosed with gender dysphoria are deployable and medically fit. The Department of Defense’s report’s conclusions that transgender are not fit to serve contradicts the medical and scientific consensus. Transgender individuals are fully capable of serving. There is nothing about being transgender that diminishes a person’s ability to serve in the military.
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Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, use a veneer of progressivism and feminism to advocate against trans equality
On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ advocate Ryan T. Anderson hosted a panel attacking the Equality Act, a bill that would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination laws, and the talk featured several “trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” or TERFs. TERFs claim trans identities threaten women’s safety and equality and actively work to deny their existence and rights. During the event, the panelists, who were identified as "from the Left," demeaned transgender people and used anti-trans language, with one saying, “It’s not a fucking ‘she’” in reference to transgender women.
The event was held at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades. The New York Times has written that the group is “stocking Trump’s government,” including by recommending “some of the most prominent members of Trump’s cabinet.” Anderson, a senior research fellow, is one of the group’s most vocal anti-LGBTQ figures. He wrote an entire book dedicated to denying trans identities and reportedly helped craft the Trump-Pence trans military ban.
TERFs, who often refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists,” are anti-trans activists who are becoming increasingly visible. They have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities. In 2018, TERF groups throughout the United Kingdom lobbied against improving the country’s Gender Recognition Act of 2004, a “piece of legislation regulating how trans people can legally change [their] genders” that currently “requires trans people to jump through numerous hoops to ‘prove’ that” they are trans. TERFs have cited the thoroughly debunked myth that allowing trans people, in particular trans women, to access restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity poses a threat to women’s safety.
The Heritage Foundation panel identified its panelists as people “from the Left” who disagree with the Equality Act. One panelist, Hacsi Horvath, an adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco, says he formerly identified as transgender. His work also appears on 4thwavenow, an anti-trans online community that was critical in the creation and spread of the flawed concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” but it relies on a study with a shoddy methodology that is under review by the academic journal that published it. Though all the Heritage panelists advocated against accepting trans identities -- and some even referred to the Gender Recognition Act as the “Women Erasure Act” -- Horvath made some of the most extreme anti-trans statements throughout the event.
From the January 28 Heritage Foundation panel “The Inequality of The Equality Act: Concerns from the Left”:
HACSI HORVATH (PANELIST): We have to get this gender identity out of the Equa -- the Women Erasure Act. But also, … I don’t play along. I don’t say “trans woman.” I don’t say “she, her.” I don’t care if it hurts their feelings. This is reality, and it gaslights everybody else if we have to -- it gaslights yourself. And you begin to internalize it, like, “OK, she” -- it’s not a fucking “she” -- sorry. I can’t help it. It’s -- just say it in reality, English language, what is happening here, and don’t play along with it. So, I just don’t play along. I won’t.
The act of misgendering -- which LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization GLSEN defines as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with” -- is considered harassment, and it stigmatizes trans people, lowers their self-esteem, and erases and invalidates their identities.
Horvath also parroted 4thwavenow’s messaging on ROGD, calling it a “mass craze” and saying trans identities are “the new eating disorder” or “the new goth.”
Julia Beck, another panelist at the Heritage event, was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus. Two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has teamed up with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.
The Heritage Foundation’s panel is just one example of the growing alliance between TERFs and conservative groups. Along with TERF group WoLF siding with ADF on its anti-trans court case in Pennsylvania, TERF groups in Massachusetts joined with the anti-LGBTQ Keep MA Safe campaign to support its anti-trans referendum to overturn to state’s comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, which ultimately and resoundingly failed in the voting booths. And TERF groups in Canada joined conservatives in testifying against that country’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. TERFs often identify with the left, and even though some identify as queer, they have made it clear that they are willing to take part in conservatives’ “divide and conquer” strategy to attempt to fracture the LGBTQ movement and erode trans equality.
Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being
Virginia TV news stations dedicated 90 segments to a story about an anti-trans high school teacher who was fired for repeatedly misgendering a student. The school board deemed those actions discriminatory; however, the news segments included considerably more voices in favor of the teacher than the trans student, and all failed to mention why misgendering someone is demeaning or harassing.
On October 31, Virginia high school teacher Peter Vlaming was placed on administrative leave for refusing to identify a transgender student by his proper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, “Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student,” and the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire him for repeatedly violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy after a public hearing on December 6. Following the board’s decision, students and parents held a walkout and began circulating petitions in support of Vlaming, which have collectively garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Vlaming is considering legal action against the school district.
Despite extensively covering the story with 90 segments between December 4 and 12, not a single anchor or reporter explained why misgendering a trans student would be considered harassment or noted that those actions stigmatize trans folks and erase their identities. However, 33 of those segments did include language that Vlaming's actions were "hostile" or "threatening" -- nearly all of which were from one of two short clips of school administrators speaking during the hearing.
For instance, several stations aired a clip of Superintendent Laura Abel testifying that “by failing to follow the directive” to refer to the student by the correct pronouns, Vlaming was "discriminating" and "creating a hostile environment.” Stations also aired a clip of the school’s Principal Jonathan Hochman during the hearing, saying, “I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening. That was very threatening.”
GLSEN, an LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization, defines misgendering as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” Misgendering not only invalidates the identities of trans people, but it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence and mental health. Trans adolescents already experience high levels of attempted suicide -- particularly transgender boys and nonbinary young people -- but a March study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that “when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.”
School districts and states around the country have adopted affirming policies to respect trans identities and to condemn bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation. GLSEN's Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students encourages schools to respect students’ names and pronouns to improve their experiences and reduce the harms caused by non-affirming practices like misgendering.
Tech companies have also passed similar policies to prevent anti-trans harassment on social media platforms. In September, Twitter banned “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” as part of its “hateful conduct” policy, acknowledging that those practices are meant to “dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Media Matters’ Parker Molloy praised the decision in a November 29 op-ed for The New York Times, noting that misgendering and deadnaming are used to deligitimatize trans identities and can discourage trans people from voicing their opinions:
As a transgender woman, I find it degrading to be constantly reminded that I am trans and that large segments of the population will forever see me as a delusional freak. Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.
Defenders of these practices claim that they’re doing this not out of malice but out of honesty and, perhaps, even a twisted sort of love. They surely see themselves as truth-tellers fighting against political correctness run amok. But sometimes, voicing one’s personal “truth” does just one thing: It shuts down conversation.
In addition to framing their coverage around Vlaming’s firing instead of how such harassment is harmful to students, Virginia TV news stations also aired considerably more statements that were sympathetic to the anti-trans teacher than the trans student. Virginia stations covered the story a total of 90 times between December 4 -- when station WRIC (ABC) says it broke the story -- and December 12. Throughout those segments, there were 82 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of Vlaming compared to 52 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of the student or the school board’s actions holding Vlaming accountable. (Repeated instances of the same person being quoted in one segment were counted as one statement.)
Furthermore, while the majority of clips supportive of the student came from repeated airings of two short clips of school officials speaking at the hearing or readings from official school district statements, many segments showed lengthy or multiple clips of Vlaming, his lawyer, and students defending his actions. For example, a segment on WVEC 13 featured multiple clips of a student supportive of Vlaming interspersed throughout the segment.
From the December 6 edition of WVEC’s 13News Now:
Only one segment included a quote from a parent, friend, or student supportive of the trans student at the center of the case, which was read by a reporter on WRIC’s 8News. Additionally, stations aired five quotes that appeared neutral to the story, either calling for more discussion, describing the events, or saying that the situation was not good for either side.
WAVY-TV 10 had particularly one-sided coverage, airing 18 statements or quotes in favor of Vlaming throughout 15 pieces of coverage compared to only 7 statements or quotes in favor of the student or school board’s actions.
While Vlaming’s story plays out in Virginia, several similar cases around the country are already being supported or litigated by the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In November, ADF attorneys announced that they had filed a federal lawsuit representing Nicholas Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor who received a formal warning for not using the appropriate pronouns to address a transgender student. Additionally, an ADF-allied attorney said in June that the group was working with an Indiana high school teacher who also cited his religious beliefs for refusing to address transgender students by their appropriate names and pronouns.
As Vlaming considers legal action and Virginia TV news stations continue to cover developments in his case, it is more important than ever that media contextualize the harms of misgendering trans people and give them a voice in these stories.
Media Matters searched iQ media for any mentions of “school,” “teacher,” “Virginia,” “fired,” “transgender,” or “trans” within 25 words of “pronoun,” as well as any mentions of “Peter Vlaming” or “West Point High School” from December 4-12 in all media markets serving Virginia: Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; Richmond-Petersburg; Roanoke-Lynchburg; Harrisonburg, Charlottesville; Tri-Cities, TN-VA; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill; Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem; and Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville).
Additional research by Brennan Suen.