On November 20, YouTube removed two anti-trans videos from right-wing propaganda network PragerU for violating its hate speech policy, which forbids claims “that individuals or groups are physically or mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased” based on sex or gender, among other categories. Several similar videos from repeat bad actors remain on the platform.
YouTube’s hate speech policy states that the platform will “remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on” attributes including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex or gender.
Media Matters has identified several other videos that remain on the platform that claim being trans is a mental illness, including another one from PragerU as well as videos from the Heritage Foundation and Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.
These videos spread harmful misinformation about trans people and have earned millions of combined views.
YouTube removed two episodes of The Candace Owens Show that compared being trans to having a mental illness
On November 20, YouTube removed a July 14, 2019, episode of PragerU’s The Candace Owens Show for violating its hate speech policies. During the video, host Candace Owens and her guest, The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles, repeatedly described trans people as having a “mental disorder.” Owens compared being trans to having schizophrenia.
The video had earned more than 700,000 views on YouTube before its removal.
Newsweek reported on YouTube’s decision to remove the video:
A YouTube spokesperson told Newsweek that the language used in Owens' podcast directly violated the company's hate speech policy, which forbids claims that individuals or groups are physically or mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased based on sex or gender.
“We rigorously enforce this policy, which prohibits claims that LGBTQ+ individuals are mentally diseased based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," said YouTube spokesperson, Alex Joseph.
During that episode, Shrier compared being trans to having an eating disorder, and Owens compared it to having schizophrenia. Owens said, “And people don’t cater to anorexics in the same way that we don’t have people catering to people that have schizophrenia. Of course, we acknowledge that there are people that are schizophrenic, but imagine a world where society had to bend to what that schizophrenic was seeing or hearing.”
Later in the video, the two described some best practice health care for trans kids as “child abuse,” and Shrier said some parents who affirm their trans kids “have Munchausen syndrome-by-proxy: people who are passing on diseases to their children.”
The video earned nearly 430,000 views before being taken down.
YouTube has previously removed similar videos
In June, YouTube removed a video from the anti-LGBTQ group Heritage Foundation of a half-day summit it co-hosted in 2019 for violating the platform’s hate speech policy. The summit featured panelists who said that being trans is a mental illness. Right-wing outlet The Federalist wrote that YouTube said the video violated the policy prohibiting claims that “groups are physically or mentally inferior.”
Heritage then posted a video about the removal on YouTube that included clips of the original, such as that trans people have “other psychological issues that cause them to behave as a transgender. They’re not born transgender.”
In November 2019, YouTube removed a 2017 video from Heritage’s media outlet The Daily Signal featuring Michelle Cretella of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), reportedly because she said, “See, if you want to cut off a leg or an arm, you’re mentally ill, but if you want to cut off healthy breasts or a penis, you’re transgender.” Axios reported, “Sources say that the tech giant offered to re-list the video, but only if ... The Daily Signal removed the transgender reference by the doctor. Heritage sees that either-or choice as censorship.”
ACPeds is a small and misleadingly named anti-LGBTQ extremist group of physicians. It broke off from the legitimate American Academy of Pediatrics after that organization began supporting the right of same-sex couples to adopt children and provide foster care.
Other videos comparing being trans to mental illness remain on YouTube
Media Matters has identified several other YouTube videos that compare being trans to having a mental illness, similar to videos that the platform has removed for violating its hate speech policy.
Owens hosted an “ex-trans” activist on her show who called being trans a “psychological disorder”
Another episode of The Candace Owens Show features “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer, who makes frequent appearances and works with with anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media. He was also in the Heritage Foundation video that YouTube removed.
During the episode, Heyer called being trans a “psychological disorder” and repeatedly denied that most adult trans people are actually transgender, claiming they really have “a sexual fetish disorder”:
WALT HEYER (ANTI-TRANS ACTIVIST): Adult men as an example: People have never heard this word in many cases — there’s a term called autogynephilia, and men who come out as a transgender person are suffering from what’s called autogynephilia. And that is a sexual fetish disorder, and many of them were married men, and what they do is they dress up as a female and look at themselves in the mirror. They’ve got all the makeup, everything is on, and they’re looking at themselves. They become the object of their own affection. And that’s called autogynephilia, and that’s one of the primary issues in older adults. They’re not transgender. They’re suffering from autogynephilia.
Then you have another one that’s called a transvestic fetish, where these adult men will attach themselves to some garment of clothing and become aroused by it. They’re not transgender; they’re dealing with a, what is called a transvestic fetish disorder.
Owens responded to Heyer’s comments by suggesting that trans people aren’t actually trans and may suffer from “underlying issues.” She also suggested that “there’s other routes that you can take,” said that being transgender is “so wrong,” and said trans people undergo “body mutilation.”
The video has earned more than 448,000 views on YouTube.
Joe Rogan hosted Abigail Shrier on his podcast and compared being trans to having eating disorders and thinking you’ve been possessed by demons
During a nearly two-hour episode of The Joe Rogan Experience with Shrier, Joe Rogan and his guest repeatedly compared being trans to joining a “crazy radical cult” and claiming you've been possessed by demons. They also repeatedly claimed that there’s “social contagion” involved in people coming out as trans, equating it to anorexia, self-harm, and other disorders or afflictions that are affected by peer pressure or social influences. These claims are based on the concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), an unsupported hypothesis with insufficient evidence that claims young teens are coming out as trans due to “social contagion.”
In the July 16 video posted to YouTube, Rogan claimed that young people who are transitioning and parents who support them are doing so because of a “groupthink model” and “contagion” that he equated to “cutting” and “even suicide pacts.” Shrier agreed that for young trans people, the idea of transitioning can become something to imitate like suicide, claiming it “becomes a thing in their minds that’s always an option.” The two continued:
ABIGAIL SHRIER: There’s a reason that social contagion spreads among teenage girls specifically, OK. Because you don’t see tons of boys going around becoming anorexic because their friends are. If a teenage boy is depressed, his friend says to him, “Let's go play basketball or a video game.” He doesn’t say, “Let's sit and talk about it.” And because girls try to take on their friends’ pain very naturally and meet their friends where they are -- and they care, they take on the pain of other people, especially their girlfriends -- they are more likely to share and spread a peer contagion like anorexia, like cutting, and like trans identification.
JOE ROGAN (HOST): That’s fascinating. You’re talking about these mental health disorders like they’re a contagion, like they’re actually contagious. Like you can give it to your friends, and your friends can take it on as well.
SHRIER: Right. Well we know this, right? Anorexics, they are always really careful when they put them together. They have to be on hospital wards because we know that it will cause it to spread.
The video has been viewed over 2.3 million times on YouTube.
Rogan is one of the most influential podcast hosts in the world, and he has frequently used his platform to demean and spread misinformation about trans people. In May, Rogan signed an exclusive licensing agreement worth more than $100 million with Spotify, where 11 years of his show as well as new episodes began streaming on September 1.
A few weeks after Rogan’s podcast began streaming on Spotify, the company’s CEO reportedly met with employees amid growing concerns about Rogan’s podcast and transphobia -- with staffers pointing to Shrier’s appearance on the podcast as an example of their concerns. Staff have reportedly requested some editorial oversight of Rogan’s show and threatened to strike over it.
A Heritage Foundation video on YouTube compared being trans to being impacted by social contagions and having a mental illness
A 2019 YouTube video of one of the Heritage Foundation’s anti-trans conferences features panelists who compared being trans to having a mental illness and who promoted the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy for trans youth. Conversion therapy seeks to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, and the practice has been widely condemned by major medical associations for causing physical and mental harm.
In the video, Dr. Michael Laidlaw, a vocal anti-trans advocate who has also been featured in right-wing outlets, said, “There seems to be involvement — many of them [trans kids] have neuropsychiatric conditions or, say, autism.” Laidlaw also pushed the unfounded right-wing claim that kids are becoming trans because of social contagion.
Another panelist lamented measures to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, misleadingly saying, “Affirmative care means the therapist must follow the child’s lead. The professionals must accept a child’s gender identity. In fact, this is the law in many states. Under conversion therapy bans, questioning a child’s gender identity is now illegal.”
Heyer is also featured in this video and seemingly recommends conversion therapy instead of accepting trans kids, saying that affirming trans kids is “child abuse” and “causing them to be depressed and anxious about who they are”:
WALT HEYER: It's important for us to realize that there is actually nothing good about affirming a young boy, 4 years old, like my grandma did me. The moment you affirm a child like my grandma did -- putting me in a purple chiffon dress and telling me how cute I was, how wonderful I looked -- is at the very same moment that you're affirming that young person, you're telling them there's something wrong with them. You're not right. That is child abuse. We need to begin calling it what it is. It's not affirming a child. It's causing them to be depressed and anxious about who they are.
We are manufacturing transgender kids. We are manufacturing their depression, their anxiety, and it's turned into a huge industry that people are profiting from after kids’ lives are completely torn apart. The most vulnerable people in our society, and adults are tearing their lives apart. It's really beyond my understanding why we're even having this discussion, because it shouldn't be happening.
The video has earned more than 63,000 views on YouTube.
These videos on YouTube are harmful to transgender people
At Vox, journalist Katelyn Burns wrote about the important role YouTube and other social media platforms play as a resource and community for trans people: “The rise of YouTube and Tumblr allowed trans people to become content creators on their own, cutting out the cis media gatekeepers that long held sway over how trans people were perceived within society.”
But anti-trans sources and narratives dominate the conversation around trans people online; a Media Matters study found that right-wing sources earned 65.7% of total Facebook interactions on trans-related content that had more than 100,000 interactions. When anti-LGBTQ groups and media attack and spread misinformation about trans people, they divert attention from important issues facing the community, including employment discrimination and high rates of violence. Social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook are critical in this effort.
When trans youth and their families use YouTube, they risk being exposed to videos that push harmful misinformation about their community. This misinformation could also result in parents denying their children critical care or rejecting their identities, which can harm trans kids’ physical and mental well-being.
In fact, research and personal narratives have demonstrated that affirming trans people is critical to their well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2018 encouraging parents and medical providers to affirm trans youth. Doing so has been shown to reduce their risk of experiencing depression, homelessness, and suicidal ideation. Yet several states have introduced bills to deny best-practice medical care for trans youth after anti-LGBTQ media and groups obsessively misinformed communities about the topic in reporting and on social media.