Meet Ryan Anderson, The Anti-LGBT 'Scholar' Peddling Junk Science To National Media

Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson routinely appears in the media under the guise of a serious academic opposed to same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. But despite the veneer of credibility his resume provides, Anderson routinely peddles false and misleading claims about the LGBT community and legal protections for LGBT people.

Anderson Is Treated Like A Credible Scholar

Anderson is a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, where he “researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty.” He graduated with a B.A. in music from Princeton University and earned a doctorate in political philosophy at Notre Dame. Since co-authoring the 2012 book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Anderson has become one of the most prominent media spokespersons in the fight against marriage equality. 

Media outlets routinely present Anderson as a scholar whose position against same-sex marriage and LGBT equality, though unpopular, is based on arguments that are supported by academic research. A recent profile of Anderson in The Washington Post headlined “The Right Finds a Fresh Voice on Same-Sex Marriage” described him as “the conservative movement's fresh-faced, millennial, Ivy League-educated spokesman against same-sex marriage,” and explained his mainstream media appeal:

Anderson is becoming a prominent face of the opposition in news media appearances.

His appeal in part owes something to counter-programming. A Princeton graduate with a doctorate in economic policy from Notre Dame, his views are at odds with other elite academics with whom he has so much in common. They are the opposite of those in his demographic. A devout Catholic, he nonetheless believes it a losing argument to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds.

Also in his favor: He's telegenic, an enthusiastic debater, and he can talk for hours.

Anderson's own bio at the Heritage Foundation touts his frequent major media appearances:

Anderson's broadcast and cable appearances include news programs on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. His work has been featured in or published by major newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Examiner, National Review, Weekly Standard and Christianity Today. It also has appeared in journals such as Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, First Things, Claremont Review of Books, New Atlantis, Touchstone, Books and Culture, The City and Human Life Review.

Anderson's carefully crafted anti-LGBT talking points are devoid of the kind of "fire and brimstone" rhetoric commonly heard from anti-LGBT commentators, which makes him a popular choice for media outlets looking to host debates about LGBT equality. His polished speaking style further reinforces his reputation as a serious, trustworthy expert.

But the media's willingness to portray Anderson as a fair-minded academic belies that fact that he routinely relies on flawed research and cherry-picked anecdotes to advance his anti-LGBT agenda.

Anderson Cites Shoddy, Debunked Research

Anderson frequently relies on shoddy and discredited research to support his arguments against LGBT equality.

A prime example is a 2012 paper Anderson frequently cites by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus, called “How Different Are The Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?” The paper seems to suggest that children raised by same-sex parents fare worse than children raised by heterosexual ones. Regenerus' paper is one of the most widely-discredited pieces of research in the field of LGBT studies because it relied on problematic methodology to achieve its findings. An internal audit conducted by the same journal that published Regnerus' paper bluntly called it "bullshit" because it did not look at children raised in intact households of married same-sex couples. Darren Sherkat, who led the internal review, stated (emphasis added):

When we talk about Regnerus, I completely dismiss the study. It's over. He has been disgraced. All of the prominent people in the field know what he did and why he did it. And most of them know that he knew better. 

Anderson's reliance on pseudoscience often leads him to make absurd claims about same-sex couples. The Washington Post profile quotes him answering a question from the audience at a forum with discredited social science claims (emphasis added): 

Same-sex relationships are less stable than ­opposite-sex relationships. A ­female-female relationship is the most short-lived, he says, “not because it's a lesbian relationship,” but because it involves two women, who are more likely to leave when their emotional needs are not met. 

Male-male relationships, he says, tend to be less stable, “not because it's a gay relationship,” but because men are more sexually permissive. “That's where you tend to get the concept of 'monogamish' -- a two-person relationship but sexually open.” 

Recently, Anderson suggested that the legalization of same-sex marriage contributes to a decline in heterosexual marriage rates -- a claim that ignores clear evidence to the contrary.   

Anderson's embrace of unsound research extends beyond his opposition to marriage equality. During an April 27, 2015 appearance on CNN's New Day with Chris Cuomo to discuss Caitlyn Jenner's transition to a woman, Anderson touted discredited research by the notoriously transphobic Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Paul McHugh to push the debunked argument that “transition regret” is common among transgender people.  

Anderson Peddles Bogus Horror Stories

Anderson also routinely peddles dishonest attacks against efforts to protect LGBT people from discrimination. 

In his Heritage Foundation report, “Marriage Matters: Consequences of Redefining Marriage,” for example, Anderson claimed that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts forced Catholic adoption agencies to close (false) and resulted in public schools being forced to teach children about same-sex marriages (also false). He's repeatedly warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would create a slippery slope to “throuples” -- three people in a marriage -- and polygamy.  

In 2014, Anderson twice parroted the bogus story ordained ministers in an Idaho town being “forced” to perform same-sex marriages or face jail time. In reality, the ministers had received no threats of any legal action from the town and were able to remain exempt from local non-discrimination laws by registering their chapel as a religious non-profit.

In an error-filled report criticizing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would have prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Anderson claimed that extending non-discrimination protections to LGBT employees would create “special privileges” and punish workers who have religious convictions about homosexuality.

And during the recent debate over Indiana's “religious freedom” law, Anderson co-wrote an article defending the measure by falsely equating it to existing federal law.

Anderson Publishes Extreme Anti-LGBT Commentary

Anderson is the founder and editor of Public Discourse, an online publication funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute, which was also one of the major funders of the disgraced Regnerus study. As editor, Anderson has used Public Discourse as a platform for fringe and extremist rhetoric, including:

  • Comparing gay surrogacy to rape, arguing that women must now defend themselves not only from “stereotypical sexual predators” but from “gay men who seek their eggs;”
  • Arguing that the decriminalization of gay sex helped cause the 2011 child molestation scandal at Penn State;
  • Commending a book promoting the criminalization of "sodomitical relationships," calling the argument “blunt and fearless;”
  • Claiming “the endgame of the LGBT rights movement involves centralized state power - and the end of First Amendment freedoms;" and
  • Alleging that “powerful advocates” at universities are trying to redefine pedophilia as “intergenerational intimacy.”

Public Discourse is also notorious for publishing the testimony of anti-LGBT children of gay parents, including virulently anti-gay Robert Oscar Lopez. Lopez has used Public Discourse to compare same-sex parenting to child abuse, and has relied on the fact that he was raised by a mother in a same-sex relationship as a child to claim that he “grew up in a house so unusual that [he] was destined to exist as a social outcast” because he had no male figure to teach him how to be “bold and unflinching.” 

Anderson Holds Fringe Beliefs About Sexual Orientation

Anderson is motivated by the same fringe ideas about LGBT equality that have led mainstream media outlets to sideline other leaders of the anti-gay movement - namely, the belief that LGBT people can “treat” or “cure” their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Anderson has embraced the idea that being gay is an ailment that can be treated since his college days. He once authored a column in the Daily Princetonian that compared being gay to alcoholism and pedophilia, suggesting that all LGBT people should practice abstinence. Anderson also called on the Princeton LGBT Center to invite Paul Scalia -- chaplain of the COURAGE ministry, which shames LGBT people into lifelong celibacy -- to an event.

In 2007, Anderson authored a lengthy column that described a friend, “Chris” who “suffers same-sex attractions, he doesn't want to, and he seeks to be made whole again.” In 2012, he touted a New York Times article about “ex-gay” men who believe that reparative therapy has helped change their sexual orientation. 

Anderson has also hinted at supporting reparative therapy for transgender people. He tweeted his opposition to “Leelah's Law,” a proposed federal law to ban medically-repudiated “conversion therapy” for minors named for transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide in 2014. Anderson also claimed a ban on conversion therapy would “hurt children,” despite the fact that major medical organizations denounce the practice as harmful. 

With a looming Supreme Court decision and a book about marriage equality already slated to be published later this year, Anderson will likely continue making the rounds on major media outlets. His academic background and well-rehearsed talking points have given the anti-LGBT movement a media savvy spokesperson who stands in contrast to the kind of right-wing firebrands most Americans have grown accustomed to. But they don't make him any more credible when it comes to discussing LGBT issues. Anderson's history of spouting misinformation, promoting debunked and flawed research, and providing a platform to anti-gay extremists undermine his credibility as a “scholar” and serious commentator. Media outlets should treat him accordingly.