One-sided Gender Studies panel: “A child tells you who they are, that’s who they are.”  

[Disclaimer: Explicit Language (Quotations)]

Last Tuesday, the Gender Studies Program sponsored a panel on “Affirming Care for Gender-Diverse Youth.” Each of the four panelists opposed Catholic teaching on matters of gender, sex, and parenting, while the Catholic perspective was not presented in any manner. Fr. Jenkins and Dean Mustillo (College of Arts and Letters) were asked to postpone or cancel the event, but the administration remained silent on the matter. 

The panelists included two researchers from the Kinsey Institute, as well as two clinicians from the IU Riley Children’s Hospital. They had no apparent disagreement on any discussed matter. For instance, they all agreed that gender is “multidimentional and non-binary,” as Dr. Stephanie Sanders of the Kinsey Institute expressed. 

“Get used to men with breasts, men with uteruses, men with ovaries, men with vulvas, men with vaginas, women with penises. All those things are important rearrangements,” Dr. J. Dennis Fortinberry likewise insisted. A professor of pediatrics and youth clinician, Fortinberry also emphasized another common point of the panel: 

“If you ask an average three year-old, they will tell you…exactly who they are…because they know who they are. What we take as gender-affirming approaches in our clinic is exactly that kind of perspective: a child tells you who they are, that’s who they are.” 

Dr. Richard A. Brandon-Friedman echoed Fortinberry’s emphasis on affirming whatever children identify as: “How do they really know? Well, they know because they say they know.”

Fortinberry also asked the audience to “think about the joy of masturbation, and being so upset by the organs you are masturbating with that you can’t even enjoy it. This is why I do what I do.” He noted this to evoke some of the reasons why affirming youth gender transition is important. He expanded on this by citing his interactions with insurance companies: 

“When we talk to insurance companies who say ‘well, this is all just cosmetic,’ I say this is saving these kids’ lives, and here are the data… This is not something where there’s controversy about whether this is true or not. There are no studies that show differently.”

Actually, there are studies which suggest different conclusions from the ones promoted by the panel. Some of these are highlighted in an article from the Heritage Foundation, “Sex Reassignment Doesn’t Work. Here’s the evidence.” Throughout the event, the panelists did not present any evidence against the positions they held, making it appear as if no such evidence exists. One such claim was about the permanence of gender dysphoria: “It doesn’t go away, you don’t sleep it off, you don’t drug it off: it never goes away. That’s dysphoria. And think about being five years old, and you got 85 years of this coming.” Actually, there is significant research suggesting that most children grow out of gender dysphoria, but no such research was mentioned. 

Many of the panel’s views were in tension of the anthropology presented in Catholic teaching, as seen in the Catechism, as well as in the Vatican Document, “Male and Female He Created Them.” On the question of transgenderism and children, Pope Francis does not equivocate: “there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this?…this is terrible!”

Nonetheless, the Catholic perspective was not at all presented at the event. Its absence among the unanimous views of the panel was controversial, in light of the university’s Common Proposal guidelines: “[Departments] should aim at ensuring that a forum is provided in which multiple viewpoints and voices on controversial topics can be heard, an appropriate balance among viewpoints is maintained, and, when a significant issue in the Catholic tradition is touched upon, that tradition should be presented.” 

Given this, several preemptive efforts were made to reach out to Fr. Jenkins and Dean Mustillo, asking them to “either cancel or postpone” the panel, as Bill Dempsey of the Sycamore Trust put it. The requests received no reply. After the event, the Rover reached out to Dean Mustillo, but the Dean did not offer comment on the event or answer the concerns raised about a violation of the Common Proposal. 

Pam Butler (Gender Studies Associate Director) promoted the event as in direct opposition to an event put on by Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), which she characterized as “based in disinformation and pseudoscience.” In contrast, she presented last week’s panel as an “evidence-based discussion.” The event was officially organized by the Gender Studies Program, housed in and funded by the University’s College of Arts and Letters.

Nicolas is a junior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies, with a double major in Mandarin Chinese. He is originally from, and hopes to one day return to, Caracas, Venezuela. You can reach him at