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Digging Deeper: 8 Contradictions in Delegate Guzman’s Defense of Bill to Criminalize Parents

October 22, 2022

In a recent interview, Virginia State Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D) stirred up controversy by indicating she planned to reintroduce a bill that would criminalize a parent not affirming their child in an LGBTQ identity as child abuse or neglect. When local news station WJLA reported her intention, Republicans objected quickly and passionately, while Democrats ran for cover. U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D), whose congressional district abuts Guzman’s House of Delegates district and who had campaigned with Guzman only days before, withdrew from a debate with her general election opponent.

For her part, Guzman (pronounced “goose-man”) announced she would not introduce the bill, but she called the news piece “misleading” and said that it “mischaracterized” her bill. In response, WJLA published the full, 19-minute interview. That interview sheds some insight into the beliefs and assumptions of progressives like Guzman, and it’s worth examining in more detail.

Let me state at the outset that my aim is not to provide an exposition of the interview; I could hardly improve upon the initial report by WJLA reporter Nick Minnock. Neither is it my aim to critique Guzman’s position from either a clinical or worldview perspective, as The Washington Stand has already done both. Instead, my aim is to try and understand Guzman on her own terms. Based on what she says, what does she believe?

Eight Contradictions

One difficulty in discerning Guzman’s worldview from her statements is that they are often contradictory. This explains how WJLA could truthfully report what Guzman said, and yet Guzman could object to its reporting as misleading. Here are eight contradictions found in the 19-minute interview.

1) Parents love their children. Parents bully their children.

Guzman: As a mom of four children, we all love our children, but we need to love them for who they are and where they are coming from. … I think parents love their children as much as I love mine, and I need to help them.

Guzman: We have failed to state that bullying against children from a LGBTQ community for their gender identity or sexual orientation is not included as part of that code. … My bill will state in the code of Virginia that bullying a child from the LGBTQ community — and this includes mental or physical abuse, to be abused for their sexual orientation or gender identity — that would be considered at Child Protective Services [CPS] charge.

In the first quotations, Guzman states clearly that parents love their children. In the second set, she explains that the CPS code is inadequate because it contains no provisions specifically on bullying against children who identify as LGBTQ, and that her bill corrects this. This section of code exists to determine whether parents have abused their children. That Guzman feels a need to insert anti-LGBTQ bullying into this list of crimes demonstrates she believes parents are capable of committing such bullying, which “includes mental or physical abuse … for their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she explains. The list of infractions would likely include such “offenses” as using a child’s given name, using pronouns corresponding to his/her biological sex, forbidding a biological male to wear dresses to school, or preventing an adolescent from accessing puberty-blocking drugs.

Taken by itself, this “contradiction” could be merely a tension or paradox. CPS only exist because there are exceptions to, or at least destructive manifestations of, the truth that parents love their children. Guzman, as a social worker and former child advocate, is certainly aware of this evidence when she generalizes, “we all love our children.” But this tension is the mouth of a rabbit hole that keeps getting curiouser.

2) Parents want to be there for their children. Parents will not support their children.

Guzman: I think that as a parent we always want to be there for our children. … I think that tells you that as parents we also want to be there for our children.

Guzman: There are articles in the Washington Post where even children are like, ‘Well, if my parents know, they won’t help me to go to college. They’ll kick me out.’ So I think that is wrong. And I just want those children to know that Delegate Guzman is here to help them.

Continuing the parent theme, Guzman also stated repeatedly that parents “want to be there” for their children. By this she meant more than being present but disinterested; she meant that parents want to offer their children love and support. Then she takes at face value children who claim their parents will not support them, will not “be there” for their children if their children inform them about a deep-seated identity struggle. But these children are simply assuming their parents will not support them; they can’t be sure, because their parents are still in the dark. Regardless, Guzman accepts the beliefs of these children despite a lack of supporting evidence and in contradiction of her own experience as a parent. It’s not clear why, except that she seems to weigh caring more highly than skepticism.

3) LGBT children run away because they don’t feel supported. LGBT children run away because their parents mistreat them.

Guzman: I’ve seen cases where children have left their homes because they didn’t feel that they are supported, or they are hurt, so they go. And I’ve heard, I’ve seen stories of children who are homeless, and they — even the case of one of my constituents who actually went to a hospital, and she had to sell her blood because she didn’t have support systems.

Guzman: [Parents] need to realize that if [LGBTQ children] are bullied, they are mistreated, there are not systems in place right now in Virginia. For example, if you are homeless, you leave your house or wherever you are living, there are not shelters … for transgender individuals.

This is pretty dramatic stuff — a child who identifies as LGBTQ running away from home, choosing the hardships and insecurities of homelessness over living with a non-affirming family. Apparently, Guzman once met an individual in her district who did this, and that individual left Guzman majorly impressed with the need for “support systems,” a phrase she repeated.

However, Guzman seems less clear on the reason why a minor would run away from home. In one accounting, the child ran away from home “because they didn’t feel that they are supported.” Another time, Guzman suggested they run away “if they are bullied, they are mistreated.” There is a Great Wall of difference between those explanations. Of course, the difference is not insurmountable. If you cheapen the definition of bullying to include any action where the other party feels unsupported or make a person’s subjective feelings the sole rubric for determining another person’s actions, the explanations are identical. Neither option, however, should be satisfactory.

4) Not affirming children who identify as LGBT is abusive. Non-affirming parents are not committing abuse.

Minnock: I read your bill that you introduced in 2020 and it expands the definition of abuse and neglect to include affirmation or non-affirming parents of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Guzman [nodding]: Yes, mh-hm.

Minnock: Are you saying non-affirming parents are committing abuse against their children if they don’t affirm their gender identity or sexual orientation?

Guzman: No, I’m not saying that. Where I come from … is that they need to learn. … What I wanted to do is help them. So, I want them to be able to see the state as a resource, or their local government, somewhere they can call and ask for help.

The exchange above gets to the core of Guzman’s bill, and the core of the controversy that has embroiled it. This is the only point on which I suspect Guzman may not be being completely honest, because of the obvious political ramifications of saying that non-affirming parents are committing child abuse. The reporter’s question simply restates the effect of Guzman’s bill, yet Guzman unpersuasively denies the obvious conclusion. To do so, she is forced to retreat from absolute truth into relativity (“where I come from”) and appeal to that hell-bound highway, good intentions (“what I wanted to do”).

5) Children who identify as LGBT are always right. We should listen to all sides.

Guzman: I think there are articles in The Washington Post where even children are like, ‘Well, if my parents know, they won’t help me to go to college. They’ll kick me out.’ So I think that is wrong. And I just want those children to know that Delegate Guzman is here to help them.

Guzman: I was also a child advocate where I helped children coming from neglect and abuse, and my intention was not to come after parents. My intention was to listen to all sides and come [up] with a conclusion of, how can we help the child, but also help parents as well.

In the second quotation, Guzman tries to bury the hatchet with parents, lauding an approach of listening to both sides. She holds up social workers like herself, who would be on the front lines of implementing this policy, as models of fair arbitration. In the first quotation, repeated from earlier, Guzman is not careful to believe both sides. She uncritically accepts the unsubstantiated claims of children who identify as LGBT, while their parents are vilified without a hearing. Listening to both sides is a great intention, but it’s pointless if you have already decided to believe one side.

6) Social workers have a duty to be unbiased. Social workers have a duty to teach ignorant parents.

Guzman: As a social worker, I cannot be biased on … any sides. My role is to come and listen to both sides.

Guzman: Sometimes it’s ignorance, to be honest with you, just to understand where children come from. So I believe that as a social worker my job is — when I am dealing with these cases — is to help parents to, number one, accept their children, to become more knowledgeable about the issue, and most importantly to become a support system for their children.

In these quotations, Guzman engages with the specifics of how, exactly, she envisions her policy will be implemented. Social workers will not be biased. They will listen to both sides. And then they will educate those ignorant parents. They must understand the issue from the social worker’s worldview, accept their child’s asserted identity, and support their child in his or her preferred LGBT lifestyle. But they’re totally not biased. What?

7) Parents’ job is to guide their children. Parents’ job is to support whatever their child wants.

Guzman: As parents, we are there to orient our children and guide them and tell them what they should do.

Guzman: I believe that as a social worker my job is, when I am dealing with these cases, is to help parents to number one accept their children, to become more knowledgeable about the issue, and most importantly to become a support system for their children. … I think that we have to help them to become a support system. … The scope of the bill, which is to help children — you know, accepting [them] for who they are — and help parents to become a support system ….

When asked about parents with explicitly religious objections to LGBT lifestyles, Guzman acknowledged that parents play a role to orient, guide, and instruct their children. But she also stated repeatedly that parents should “become a support system” for children who identify as LGBT. That is, parents must affirm and aid their child in pursuing such a lifestyle, regardless of the parent’s religious convictions. According to Guzman, it is a social worker’s job to transform resistant parents into such support systems, and her bill would equip them to wield all the tools of the criminal code. Somehow, Guzman believes that a social worker can “help” parents by making parents do the opposite of their responsibility to guide and instruct their children.

8) Guzman’s bill criminalizes non-affirming parents. Guzman’s bill does not criminalize parents.

Minnock: And what could the penalties be, if the investigation concludes, and it’s concluded that a parent is not affirming of their LGBTQ child? What could the consequences be?

Guzman: Well, we first have to have an investigation. And before we make the determination that there’s going to be a CPS charge, depending on the type of values — and this is for all abuse, not only LGBTQ — it could be a felony it could be a misdemeanor.

Minnock: What would you tell your Republican colleagues who say this is criminalizing parents? What would you tell them?

Guzman: No it’s not. It’s educating parents because the law tells you the dos and don’ts.

Under Guzman’s bill, parents could face either felony or misdemeanor charges for refusing to affirm and support their child in an LGBT identity. But it totally doesn’t criminalize parents. No, it educates them. Why? Well, because saying otherwise would kill it politically. If that’s too harsh, I’m open to other interpretations, but I can’t see any.

Five Roles

Filtering through these interlinking contradictions, five major themes emerge regarding what Guzman believes about relative roles and the raising children.

1) The Role of Children

Guzman seems to believe that children possess a certain degree of autonomy. She recognizes the right of children to define their own identity, over and above the wishes of their parents. She credits their word without verification. She believes they are mature enough to decide whether it’s a good idea to run away from home. “At the end of the day, we all are going to become adults,” she said. Apparently, adulthood begins in childhood.

I wonder if Guzman applied this philosophy in raising her own four children. If so, how consistently? May a toddler decide he will only eat candy? Does a four-year-old have the right to identify as a person who goes to bed at 10 p.m.? Are there consequences when a 10-year-old chooses to run away from a parental lecture? If parental authority is recognized in these areas, on what principle do we base exceptions for a child asserting an LGBTQ identity?

2) The Role of Government

Throughout the interview, Guzman consistently asserted that government plays a supporting role in helping individuals of all ages — and she means all — fulfill their chosen identities. She lamented the lack of “support systems,” and argued that government should either provide them or help others to provide them. She seems to believe that government bears the primary responsibility to ensure the welfare of all members of society.

3) The Role of Parents

Guzman seems to genuinely believe that parents have a role to play in their children’s lives. They should love them, support them, and advise them — conditionally, that is. There are certain decisions a child can make that are too important for a parent to oppose. For Guzman, total affirmation and support is the only loving response a parent can have to a child who chooses to identify as LGBT.

Parents seem to play a supporting role in the upbringing of their children, to Guzman. She seems to argue that, while the government bears the primary responsibility for a child’s welfare, that end is often best accomplished by parents. Thus, parents are demoted to mere instruments of government. Their authority begins and ends exactly where the government says it does. That certainly seems compatible with the scope and bias of CPS agencies and their mission, but it fails to account for the fact that families predated government — or rather, were the original form of government.

4) The Role of Legislators

Consider this exchange from the interview.

Minnock: How do you define affirmation in the scope of this bill?

Guzman: Well, you know, I’m not an attorney. You know, I come from a place where I’m trying to help, you know, children in the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. So, what my goal of the bill is, to accept children for who they are. So, I’m not getting into the nitty-gritty of that word, but the scope of the bill, which is to help children.

If Guzman’s bill makes non-affirming parents liable to criminal penalties, then affirmation is its key term. What the bill would actually do hinges upon the narrow or broad definition of this single word. Yet the legislator who planned to introduce the bill cannot (or won’t) define it. Instead, she resorts to a cop-out, “I’m not an attorney” — nor a biologist — and a retreat into relativism, “I come from a place,” and “what my goal of the bill is.” Sprinkle on a generous helping of platitudes, and another hard question successfully dodged.

But this wasn’t just a hard, potentially damaging question. This was the question which every open-minded listener wants answered. What behaviors, precisely, would parents be punished for under the bill? By refusing to answer the question, Guzman invited critics to imagine the worst possible scenario.

The truth is, defining affirmation would immediately make Guzman’s bill obsolete. The latest notion of what constitutes affirming someone in an LGBT lifestyle seems to expand every five minutes, and only words that remain undefined are malleable enough to keep up. Accordingly, Guzman had to keep the term “affirmation” undefined so that the bill’s effects could continue evolving after passage. And, as might be expected, the word has already come to encompass far more than a reasonable outsider would expect. A father who consistently tells his teenage son, “Just because you like playing the violin more than football doesn’t make you gay,” would probably be charged with a crime under current notions of LGBT affirmation. The critics who imagine the worst possible scenario obtain it by simply listening closely to what LGBT activists are saying.

Thus, by introducing this bill, Guzman planned to ask the legislature to pass a bill that neither she, nor they, nor the public understood. But that didn’t seem to bother her. I believe the reason is because she has a different understanding of the role of a legislator. It seems she believes legislators should pass vague measures, steeped in altruism, and leave it to technocratic experts to implement it in a salutary way. In fact, her quip, “I’m not an attorney” implied that all non-attorneys were incapable of understanding what a given piece of legislation would do. This is not democracy (in the broad, general sense of rule-by-the-people). In fact, her notions are antithetical to democracy. She believes the people are incapable of self-government because they are incapable of understanding the laws their representatives pass. Good government, for her, can only be achieved by those with the proper expertise (and accompanying credentials). No wonder she believes social workers can raise children better than parents.

5) The Role of Pluralism

Finally, it’s worth considering what Guzman believes to be the role of pluralism in raising children. By pluralism, I mean a society in which people of multiple backgrounds, worldviews, interests, and beliefs can coexist peacefully (it includes religious freedom, among other things). Pluralistic societies believe enforced conformity is wrong and destructive.

Frankly, Guzman’s position can best be described as conformism. She doesn’t want to punish anyone for being different. They’re only ignorant, after all. The all-knowing, ever-good experts are there to teach them. If they submit to this re-education, the state converts them into instruments for its own purposes. Everybody wins. If necessary, coax them on with some emotional manipulation. “What I’ll do with them is talk to them about the cases that I have seen and what would happen to their children, and I’m sure they will be able to listen and accept them,” said Guzman.

Problems only arise with those incorrigible free-thinkers, those who are unpersuaded by the state’s attempts to educate them. An example must be made out of them, so that everyone else learns to submit meekly. Give them every chance to recant, but if at last they refuse to affirm their child’s LGBT identity, “there’s going to be a CPS charge,” Guzman warned. “It could be a felony; it could be a misdemeanor. But we know that a CPS charge could harm your employment, could harm your education.”

Bills to crush dissenters and political opponents have no place in a free society. Clearly, those pushing radical LGBT legislation are only interested in a certain view of freedom. But all they want to do is help people, so it’s okay.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.