“Satan is very deceptive, he’s the master of deceit, and he comes in and says, … “This is who you really are.’”
While there are many examples of right-wing pundits and politicians quite literally demonizing trans people, this instance in particular comes from a sermon delivered by Ohio state Rep. Gary Click and uncovered last month by trans journalist Riley Roliff. Since Roliff’s report, Click has been on the ropes trying to insist his current anti-trans bill is backed by science rather than religion, and he has taken to right-wing outlets to disparage Roliff and other trans reporters.
Click is the sponsor of the SAFE Act, Ohio’s bill to ban gender-affirming care for youth that already failed to pass last year. After pursuing Click about a leaked conversation with a trans constituent, News 5 Cleveland reported that he had not spoken to any trans people before putting forth the bill, but that instead the Center for Christian Virtue approached him about introducing the anti-trans legislation last session.
The Center for Christian Virtue, once designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group under its former name, Citizens for Community Values, is affiliated with other avowed anti-LGBTQ organizations and SPLC-designated hate groups, including Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom.
Click’s testimony for the bill, which the legislator insisted was grounded in science, was dedicated to attempting to undermine the credibility of the bill’s opponents. Complaining about “victims of gender medicine,” the Ohio representative claimed that “while you will hear words like ‘evidence-based’, ‘medically appropriate’, ‘life-saving’ and so forth, these are all statements of opinion mixed with ideology rather than fact.”
He also referenced the disputed account of gender clinic “whistleblower” Jamie Reed, Manhattan Institute researcher Leor Sapir, and the debunked notion that nearly all trans youth desist in their identity by adulthood.
“You’re not born that way,” Click says about trans people during the sermon. “God’s not going to curse you in the wrong body. He’s not going to curse you with desires that cannot be adequately and appropriately and biologically fulfilled correctly.”
At one point, Click appears to admit to having helped with attempted conversion. After condemning a California bill that sought to ban the practice as “an assault on the First Amendment,” Click describes conversion therapy as counseling “someone who struggles with those same-sex attractions, or struggles with their gender identity,” by showing them “what the bible says” and how to be “at one with the body God gave them.” Following this, he says, “I’ve helped people overcome that before.”
Click also claimed that LGBTQ people are deceived by Satan from following God’s “plan for the family,” and he said that suicide rates are high for queer people because they are “defying nature.”
Almost a week later, Click appeared on Washington Watch hosted by Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council who once called the passage of California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage “more important than the presidential election” because “we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage.” After Perkins referred to mainstream medical organizations that support gender-affirming care, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as “gatherings of quacks,” Click joined the show to discuss his new anti-trans bill.
“We’re getting, as you know, some opposition in the press,” Click said, prodding at Roliff’s article. “Especially with me being a pastor, that really triggers them.”
Perkins then asked Click about his claim that “the Bible and science line up together.”
“One of the things we know is the Bible is true, and if the Bible is true, it will show itself throughout society and we can see that,” Click said. “So the Bible makes statements, but when I come to the legislature, I can’t just say, ‘Well, the Bible says, you know, male and female’ — I have to give statistics, I have to give proof, I have to give living experiences.”
In the closing of the interview, Click appeared to confirm his appearance was indeed about Roliff’s piece by defending the sermon specifically, saying his rebuke of LGBTQ people was because “God loves everyone, God doesn’t love everything,” and claiming he was “very critical of people who use harsh language and say unkind and mean things to people.”
“I think so many times, Tony, in our churches, we use hateful rhetoric and we use bad language,” Click added.
“We have to speak that truth in love,” Perkins agreed.
A day after the interview, the Family Research Council-owned outlet The Washington Stand published a piece calling Roliff’s article, as well as stories by reporter Erin Reed and others, “ad hominem attacks” against Click’s faith.
The article referred to Roliff and Reed as “transgender-identifying” journalists, mimicking the derogatory language popularized by the anti-trans movement online. The piece also misgendered Roliff and sought to undermine her work by claiming “the media’s most fervent attacks were directed against Click’s profession as a pastor,” calling Reed’s reporting “another anti-Christian hit piece.”
Click quote-tweeted a post endorsing this story the same day.
On June 2, Click appeared on The Bruce Hooley Show, hosted by Salem Media. Click started out by making a martyr of himself, saying, “I feel like if you’re not being attacked, you’re not doing anything. You don’t catch any flak until you’re over the target, and it sounds like I’m dead center over the target.” He then decided to attack Roliff again, misgendering her and claiming she was in need of his sermons.
OHIO REP. GARY CLICK: And what happened is recently, some trans journalist — a trans journalist who is a male, XY chromosomes, but depending on where you look has pronouns of she/her or they/them, a very confused individual, a college student — decided to sift through some of my old sermons. Which I'm thinking, ‘Well, that's good, they probably need them.’ And so they found a message that I preached in 2018 where I was talking about the family, and I just preached God's plan for the family. And so they've asked me before — they've tried to link a religious motivation, like I'm trying to legislate my religion, and I'm not. I'm legislating science. They just don’t get the fact that the Bible and science can go together.
From sermons and media appearances openly calling transgender people “demonic” to the unsurprising revelation that conservative Christian organizations conspired with Republican politicians for years to craft the modern anti-trans movement, the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and legislation like Click’s bill is unmistakably motivated in part by religious bias. And as right-wing media inserts itself into the equation, the anti-trans movement can then leverage its power to attempt to silence even the trans journalists sounding the alarms.