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WASHINGTON — A group of House Republicans is urging its members to pressure Amazon to resume selling a set of controversial gay conversion therapy books, after the platform announced this month it would no longer carry works by the “father of conversion therapy.”
The Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus that includes more than 70% of all GOP House members, issued a handout during a private meeting in the Capitol Wednesday asking members to “contact Amazon with concerns” about what they referred to as “Amazon censorship.”
Amazon removed books by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist who is credited with originating gay conversion therapy, a debunked — and in some cases illegal — pseudoscientific method of trying to turn gay people straight.
Nonetheless, the Republicans want to lobby to get his books — such as “A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality” and “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality” — back in circulation.
“In recent days, Amazon has banned the sale of several books addressing unwanted same-sex attraction,” according to the handout, obtained by VICE News. “Catholic psychologist, author and therapist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi (deceased) penned multiple books to assist men struggling with unwanted homosexual attractions, feelings and lifestyles.
“The company is choosing to censor speech.”
“These books were available on Amazon until an LGBT activist repeatedly petitioned Amazon to remove the ‘homophobic books’ from the company’s website. Amazon removed Dr. Nicolosi’s books and those of several other authors on similar topics,” the document continues. “It is not clear that any of the banned books have violated an Amazon policy, but rather that the company is choosing to censor speech.”
The handout was issued a day after representatives from Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple were grilled about antitrust issues in a House committee hearing. Separately, the effort to pressure Amazon would open a new front in Republicans’ years-long fight with tech companies, which they claim censor conservative viewpoints.
When the Amazon decision was first reported, the company confirmed to news outlets the books were removed because they violate Amazon’s content guidelines. Conservative media outlets heavily covered the decision as another instance of censorship.
The Republican Study Committee memo recommended that members read a story from the Federalist, which charged that Amazon is being hypocritical because it still sells books by Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Benito Mussolini, Timothy McVeigh and David Duke.
“The gay community, a supposedly oppressed and marginalized group, wields an extravagant amount of power today, and does so without regard for the rights of anyone who chooses to not support them,” according to the article. “How long until the most widely read book in the world is banned because it takes a dim view of homosexuality?” the author asks, referencing the Bible.
Both Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Johnson of Louisiana and Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, chairwoman of the group’s Values Action Task Force, which originated the document, did not respond to requests for comment.
Several members of the study committee had not yet heard of the initiative when asked about it Thursday by VICE News. That included the three co-chairmen of the Values Action Task Force, which focuses on promoting conservative values in Congress.
North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee and the current chairman of the group’s prayer caucus, said he also had not yet heard about the push to pressure Amazon, but said he generally agrees with the idea, arguing Amazon should not be in the business of banning speech.
“People ought to be able to have the right to express their opinion.”
“If this author has called for some kind of tactics of harassment or violence, then that's one thing. But if he's just said, ‘Here's what I believe is the best path forward,’” that’s another thing, Walker said. “The speech part of that is where my concern is, from a liberty standpoint. People ought to be able to have the right to express their opinion.”
Eighteen states and even more U.S. territories and municipalities have banned conversion therapy based on sexual preference or gender identity, including bans approved in four states plus Puerto Rico just this year. The practice has been opposed by prominent medical groups including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Conversion therapy can have an adverse affect on mental health and increase the risk of suicide, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Homosexuality.
Roughly 700,000 LGBTQ adults in the United States have undergone conversion therapy at some point in their lives, according to a 2018 study by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, a think tank dedicated to researching sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
Although Amazon removed Nicolosi’s books, several other books advocating conversion therapy remain on the platform.
A Change.org petition signed by more than 80,000 people had been calling for Amazon to remove Nicolosi’s books, but it has now shifted its mission to getting Amazon to specifically ban all conversion therapy content.
Sky Gray, the leader of the online petition, said in an e-mail that he anticipates the effort to ban conversion therapy books will get harder now that members of Congress are involved.
”It shouldn't be surprising that the conservatives are in support of conversion therapy; they've made it clear they are in the past,” Gray said. “It looks like this is going to be a bigger fight than previously anticipated, though I knew it would be an uphill battle. Looks like the hill just got a lot steeper, with this knowledge in mind.”
Cover: Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)