The move comes after Republican lawmakers complained to CEO Jeff Bezos—which backfired.
Last week, Amazon decided to pull all books from their platform that frame LGBTQ identities as mental health issues. The move came after four GOP senators made noise about the retailer’s removal of one title, When Harry Became Sally, and Amazon doubled down.
“[W]e reserve the right not to sell certain content. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, as do we,” wrote Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy, wrote in a response to Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, Mike Lee and previous star of my cancelled authors round-up, Josh Hawley. “As to your specific question about When Harry Became Sally, we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”
The book in question, When Harry Became Sally, “not only promotes the dangerous practice of converting transgender children to be cisgender, he distorts and denies the consensus on the care transgender people do need while sidelining the experiences of transgender people ourselves,” writes Gillian Branstetter in LitHub. It is still available at major retailers like Barnes & Noble, which lists the title as a best seller.
Supporters of the online retail giant’s decision—even ones that may frequently criticize the company’s labor practices and other business ethics–chalked this up to a win for gay and trans people. “LOL! This brought tears of joy. Don’t F with Jeff Bezos because he’s so rich that losing a few billion is no biggie to him to prove a point,” wrote user @andrpowe. He takes a lot of flack, but this, too, is building and living the American Dream.”
GOP: “Businesses shouldn’t be forced to sell things that are against their values!”
Amazon: “Ok.” *stops selling anti-Trans books*
GOP: “No, not like that!”
— The Olympian Hiawatha (@Metroliner) March 13, 2021
But critics decry Amazon’s decision as cancel culture and, given the company’s scale and impact on the culture, as censorship. “Not sure I want a company that’s attained Amazon’s ubiquity or even corporate America in general making decisions about the acceptable boundaries of debate. Power corrupts,” tweeted user @parallax2020.
In particular, conservatives have focused on the inclusion of transitioning genders in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM-5). Ben Shapiro echoed this sentiment when tweeting, “Time to ban the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,” along with a link to this Amazon news.
When Harry Became Sally author Ryan Anderson jumped into the debate with this argument. The APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which Amazon sells, lists gender dysphoria, he wrote in a thread on Twitter, “so the real deciding factor seems to be whether you endorse hormones and surgery as the proper treatment or counseling. Amazon appears to have never read my book, but relied on hit pieces. As I pointed out before: Please quote the passage where I ‘call them mentally ill.’ You can’t quote that passage because it doesn’t exist.”
As Branstetter, who has read Anderson’s book, points out in the LitHub piece, at the center of this debate is whether or not conversion therapy as an appropriate treatment for trans people. “Most of the articles about transgender people shared on Facebook, for example, come from right-wing blogs and influencers who portray transition-related care as coercive and experimental, describing it in stark terms as ‘mutilation’ and transgender people ourselves as delusional…The same debunked sources…are cited throughout Anderson’s book…In this way, Anderson effectively models his attacks against transition-related care on those against other safe and necessary medical treatments, including vaccines and measures to fight the coronavirus.”