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Professor affiliated with Tufts Med takes controversial stance on transgender issue

Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 04:09

Painted Cannon

Kristen Collins / Tufts Daily

Students painted the cannon on Sunday, protesting the controversial stance taken by a Tufts School of Medicine assistant clinical professor on transgender issues.

A group of students painted the cannon Sunday night in protest of an editorial that Keith Ablow, an assistant clinical professor at the Tufts School of Medicine, wrote for Fox News stating that children should not be allowed to watch a television show that cast a transgender individual.

Ablow published a Sept. 2 editorial in FoxNews.com's "Opinion" section titled "Don't Let Your Kids Watch Chaz Bono On ‘Dancing With the Stars,'" in which he states that parents should not let their children watch the ABC show "Dancing With the Stars," which premiered last night, because Chaz Bono, the transgendered son of Cher and Sonny Bono, appeared on the program.

Ablow's editorial warns that children — particularly those in the stages of puberty of who are questioning their sexualities — might be encouraged by Bono's appearance on "Stars" to change their own gender through gender reassignment surgery.

"It is a toxic and unnecessary byproduct of the tragic celebration of transgender surgery that millions of young people who do watch ‘Dancing with the Stars' will have to ponder this question: Maybe my problems really stem from the fact that I'm a girl inside a boy's body (or a boy inside a girl's body)," Ablow said.

He also appeared on Fox News' "America Live" on Sept. 14 supporting the editorial in an interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Ablow told Kelly that someone who is "celebrated" in mainstream society may encourage others to emulate their lifestyle.

"We kindle behavior in one another," Ablow told Kelly. "It's possible that if someone is celebrated and lifted to heroic proportions like that of a civil rights leader, that someone who is somewhat uncertain with his or her gender might say, ‘You know what, I'm going down that road.' And that is a very tortuous road that we know very little about."

There is no "clear scientific evidence" for Ablow's opinion that a child's gender identity may change based on a television show, said Clinton Anderson, the director of the American Psychological Association's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office.

"It seems to me that Dr. Ablow's concern is based in his own beliefs about gender identity, not in any scientific evidence that might support his concern," Anderson told the Daily in an email.

This view was echoed by numerous Tufts officials including Steph Gauchel, director of the Tufts Women's Center, who said Ablow's claims were "utterly flawed and discriminatory."

"This argument is parallel to those who have argued that gay teachers or parents will make their children gay," Gauchel wrote in an email to the Daily. "Adults do not make children transgender or gender nonconforming and they do not make children gay."

Tom Bourdon, director of the Tufts Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center, said in an email that Ablow's claim was false.

"It is ridiculous to imply that a child could be swayed to become transgender or eventually put themselves through unnecessary surgical procedures as a result of wanting to emulate an individual on television," Bourdon said.

This incident has raised concerns about whether Ablow should be associated with Tufts, Bourdon said.

"I… find it troubling that his name is attached to Tufts considering his medical viewpoints," Bourdon said.

Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), told the Daily that Ablow's assumption that all transgender people undergo surgery, as well as condemnation of that treatment, is incorrect.

"At the end of the day, we have somebody who is speaking in the minority when all the of leading medical associations have validated the treatment for transgender people and have even gone as far as to the say that part of that involves ending discrimination against transgender people," Scott said.

Scott added that the MTPC has sent letters to University President Anthony Monaco and the School of Medicine calling for Ablow's resignation.

The university has sent a letter in response to the MTPC, reaffirming the university's commitment to inclusion, regardless of gender identity or sexual expression, and clarifying Ablow's affiliation with Tufts, according to Monaco.

According to Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler, Ablow's position of assistant clinical professor is a "voluntary, unpaid appointment."

"Over the years, he has given occasional lectures in forensic psychiatry to residents, who have already received the M.D. degree," Thurler wrote in an email to the Daily.

"He did not discuss gender identity or sexual expression in those lectures and he has not given any lectures for the past five years," she said.

Ablow does not teach medical students, Thurler noted.

Gauchel said that while Ablow does not teach medical students, his message "would be incredibly harmful to the students in these classrooms and could potentially lead to harm to patients by these future doctors."

Thurler noted that the university is "committed to employment practices and a learning environment that are free of discrimination and harassment."

Ablow did not respond to an email request for comment.

Ablow's remarks are probably rooted in his personal discomfort with transgender identities, Scott said.

"I think the reality is, is that when someone is uncomfortable with something, people describe [it] as being unsafe, or wrong," Scott said.

"Ablow wants to mask the gender identity spectrum, and history has shown us that ignorance is not bliss, but rather does a great deal of harm to society as a whole," Bourdon said.

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