Critics Attack Faith of Pastor-Legislator Who Sponsored Ohio SAFE Act
Opponents of the Ohio Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act have employed an indirect strategy by criticizing the bill sponsor, Ohio Representative Pastor Gary Click (R), for his Christian faith.
The ad hominem attacks come as a wave of state legislatures have restricted gender transition procedures on minors, suggesting that other left-wing opposition tactics — such as appealing to statements from medical associations; alleging discrimination, erasure, or genocide against “trans people”; filibustering an entire legislative session; or disrupting legislative sessions — are inadequate. The new tactic amounts to “outright hostility and discrimination toward people of faith,” according to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
The Ohio SAFE Act (HB 68) has made “some great progress this year” and stands a good chance of passing, said Click on “Washington Watch.” When Click introduced the act last year, it had 25 cosponsors and nearly crossed the finish line. This time, after 15 more states have enacted similar legislation, the act boasts an additional 15 House cosponsors, totaling 40 of the chamber’s 99 members, and nearly two-thirds of its 67 Republicans. Click said the bill’s three committee hearings have “all been fantastic. They’ve all been in our favor.”
Significantly, Click said the House speaker “is supportive” of the bill. In January, Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) won the position with the coalition support of Democrats and moderate Republicans, defeating the more conservative Rep. Derek Merrin (R) for the office. Stephens promised to block conservative policies and govern as a moderate, so his support for the SAFE Act was not guaranteed.
HB 68 orders physicians not to “perform gender reassignment surgery on a minor” or “prescribe a cross-sex hormone or puberty-blocking drug for a minor.” Mental health counselors treating youth with gender dysphoria must obtain parental consent and screen for “other comorbidities that may be influencing the minor individual’s gender-related condition.” It also protects “watchful waiting” and “other models of care” that avoid rushing youth headlong onto medication. Violations of these provisions are enforceable by a professional licensing board, a private cause of action, or the attorney general. The act also protects parental custody rights related to a child’s gender identity, defines “sex” in biological terms, and prevents Medicaid insurance payments from funding “gender transition services for minor individuals.” As it currently stands, Ohio HB 68 would rank among the strongest state bills to protect minors from gender transition procedures.
“We do have a lot of opposition. Of course, the children’s hospitals are fighting against us. They’re lying about us,” Click said. At least four children’s hospitals in Ohio operate pediatric gender centers: MetroHealth in Cleveland, Nationwide Children’s in Columbus, Cincinnati Children’s, and Akron Children’s. “And we’re getting, as you know, some opposition in the press, especially with me being a pastor. That really triggers them.”
Some statements from the hearing indicate that the medical community has not entirely abandoned their traditional lines of attack against laws preventing gender transition procedures on minors. One representative, who is also a physician, argued both that gender transition surgeries were not happening in Ohio, and that the legislature should not encroach on physicians’ turf. “You are asking for a law that is not something that is done in Ohio,” claimed state Rep. Anita Somani (D). “So why are we creating laws when physicians are trained to determine what is appropriate medical care, what is appropriate surgical care?”
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Chief of Staff Patty Manning-Courtney echoed Somani’s talking points, saying, “Our practice is not to directly refer patients for surgery under the age of 18.” She argued that the hospital already performed mental health assessments and obtained parental consent before performing gender transition procedures, as the bill would require. She added, however, “We are terrified of what this would do to mental health providers, and we have already heard of people leaving the state already because of mental health provisions that are proposed in the bill.”
Media outlets prefer appeals to authority. “Gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical organization in the United States,” noted the Ohio Capital Journal (OCJ). A local NBC affiliate stressed local associations, “Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major medical providers have spoken out against the bill. The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association previously called the bill a ‘misguided effort.’”
“These medical organizations have a certain monopoly on the treatment of what has been termed ‘gender dysphoria,’” argued former clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, now director of FRC’s Center for Family Studies, on “Washington Watch.” “There’s one way that is offered through these medical organizations. And if you even attempt to investigate into another way of helping these kids, then you’re deemed a bigot.”
The media particularly objected to the bill’s protection of methods of care other than total, unquestioning affirmation, labelling these methods “conversion therapy.” As OCJ said, “Conversion therapy has been condemned by several medical associations and human rights groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the United Nations, and more.” But Click denied the bill authorized conversion therapy, offering a different definition. “Conversion therapy requires force or at minimum an act of trying to change someone into something that they do not wish to be,” he argued.
“When an individual is struggling with unwanted feelings and they approach me or someone else,” Click added, “it is entirely ethical to listen to them, pray with them, and provide encouragement and strength, and reinforcement as they determine for themselves how they wish to live.”
However, the media’s most fervent attacks were directed against Click’s profession as a pastor. “Click denies that his bill has religious motivations, but his  sermon suggests otherwise,” alleged a transgender-identifying journalist, writing a piece that OCJ presented as straight news. “Throughout the sermon, Click emphasizes his view that God provided a specific plan for the family. Click suggests that homosexuality, trans people, and single-parent homes all break from this plan.”
He quoted, “You’re not ‘born that way,’” Click says about trans people during the sermon. “God’s not going to curse you in the wrong body. He’s not going to curse you with desires that cannot be adequately and appropriately and biologically fulfilled correctly.”
The OCJ “news” article referenced Click’s association with Perkins and FRC and mentioned the discredited SPLC’s hate group designation.
In another anti-Christian hit piece, yet another transgender-identifying reporter wrote in an LGBT publication on the opposite coast, the Los Angeles Blade, “Rep. Gary Click … has consistently stated that his bill is not influenced by religious beliefs and has denied endorsing conversion therapy in hearings. However, recent recordings uncovered by local reporter Riley Roliff from his church sermons seem to contradict his statements.”
That author claimed that HB 68 “carries forward a trend of religious organizations trying to front anti-trans bills while pretending their motivations are based in science. … Anti-trans bills are not driven by science, and their sponsors are being intentionally dishonest when making these claims. Instead, they seek to legislate morality.”
“In 2018, I preached a series of messages leading up to the election,” Click explained. Three of the messages discussed “the value of the family and talked about what the Bible says.” Ironically, he said, “I was very critical of people who use harsh language and say unkind and mean things to people because God loves everyone. God doesn’t love everything.” Click’s concern was pastoral. “I always ask myself, if somebody in my church is struggling with an issue, would they feel comfortable coming and talking to me and seeking counsel and advice, and would I be able to share the gospel with them?” That pastoral truth-telling was deliberately misinterpreted as hateful and bigoted.
“What you’ve described is, just because you’re a Christian, just because you’re a pastor, and you hold the views that someone else might have, [they say] it somehow discredits [the view] because it is also a teaching of your faith,” Perkins responded. “I mean, that to me looks like outright hostility and discrimination toward people of faith.”
Just because there is a biblical argument against gender transition procedures for minors doesn’t mean there isn’t a secular argument, Click asserted, appealing to categories defined by David Barton of “thinking biblically and speaking secularly.” “We know the Bible is true,” he explained. “And if the Bible is true, it will show itself through our society. … When I come to the legislature, I can’t just say, ‘Well, the Bible says, male and female.’ I have to give statistics. I have to give proof, I have to give living experiences.” Click has labored diligently to develop a secular case for his bill to persuade his fellow legislators.
“You represent what we want to see: pastors and Christians that are not just moaning about what’s happening, not just cursing the darkness, but bringing light to the arena,” Perkins commended Click. And yet, he summarized with some shock, the media “took umbrage with your statement that the Bible and science line up together.”
“If anyone had any doubt about [transgenderism targeting children] being … very much rooted in a spiritual problem,” said Bauwens, “I think Target pretty much pulled [back] the curtain on that for us.” Last week, Target unveiled a PRIDE campaign featuring Satanist-themed children’s garments. “Satan respects pronouns,” said one shirt in the collection. Target has taken a stock market pummeling in response to the ensuing boycott, even after cutting ties with the pro-Satan designer.
But, due to God’s common grace, Christians don’t have a monopoly on understanding the harm transgender ideology can do to children, as Click’s coalition demonstrates. “What I found really interesting is the alignment of people that come together and agree on this,” he said. “We have people from the LGBT community. They’ve been my chief witnesses,” including “one young lady who’s an atheist” and has helped line up speakers to “testify in favor” of the bill. “Even Richard Dawkins came out and agrees with us,” Click exclaimed.
Click said Ohio representatives hope to pass HB 68 through the House in June, and from there it will proceed to the Ohio Senate. Republicans hold a 67-32 majority in the House and a 26-7 majority in the Senate, and Governor Mike DeWine is a Republican. Unlike some state legislatures with a fixed adjournment date, Ohio’s legislature can operate all year long.
“Who would [have] ever thought that this is the issue that would have brought, you know, Christians, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and atheists all together to support something?” said Click. “It’s so common sense that anyone with an ounce of common sense gets it.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.