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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: Why has Amazon removed a book on the transgender movement?

'When Harry became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement' is authored by conservative Ryan T. Anderson, a teaching fellow at the University of Dallas in Texas. It was published in 2018.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 15, 2021 10:17:40 am
The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France. (Reuters Photo: Pascal Rossignol, File)

This week, Amazon said it would not sell books that frame gender or sexual identity as a mental illness. Its statement came weeks after the company removed from its platform one of its bestseller books titled ‘When Harry became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement‘.

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The book

When Harry became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement‘ is authored by conservative Ryan T. Anderson, a teaching fellow at the University of Dallas in Texas. It was published in 2018.

According to its preview, the book exposes “the contrast between the media’s sunny depiction of gender fluidity and the often sad reality of living with gender dysphoria. It gives a voice to people who tried to ‘transition’ by changing their bodies, and found themselves no better off”.

In a column, the author claimed to have been “attacked twice on The New York Times op-ed page”, and that The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, ran a “hit piece” that was “riddled with errors”.

The book has been taken down days after the US House of Representatives passed the landmark Equality Act that safeguards LGBT+ people from discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill is now headed for the Senate, where, in 2019, it failed to garner enough support to get through.

Amazon’s decision

On February 21 this year, after three years of selling the book on its site, Amazon decided to remove it. The company said the decision was taken following a change in its “Content Guidelines for Books”, based on which it would no longer sell any books that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

Amazon said this in a letter addressed to Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who had asked the company to explain its decision. Defending its position, the company added, “…we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable.”

It also said that before dropping the book, it had sent an email to the distributor, informing them of the company’s decision to stop its sale as it violated its content guidelines. “The email provided a link to our content guidelines and offered a way to contact us if there are questions,” the letter mentioned.

Anderson has said neither he nor his publisher was informed of Amazon’s decision to pull the book. In a column published on the website First Things, Anderson said, “I do know that there’s no reason to blindly believe that granting Big Tech unlimited liberties is how we best protect human flourishing and human dignity.”

Meanwhile, Encounter Books, the publisher, said in a statement, “If Amazon, which controls most of the book sales in America, has decided to delist a book with which some of its functionaries disagree, that is an unconscionable assault on free speech.”

Amazon’s decision has also been criticised by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). It said the company has the right not to sell a book as part of the First Amendment, but “when Amazon decides to remove a book, it matters not only to the author and their publisher, but to the entire public sphere.”

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