On PBS, Amanpour Warns LGBTQ ‘Human Rights Are Under Fire’ from ‘Strange’ DeSantis

Political News

Public broadcasting has once again smeared potential Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, this time as a dangerous spreader of anti-LGBTQ intolerance, on Thursday evening’s Amanpour & Co. show on PBS. Host Christiane Amanpour conducted an 18-minute interview with author Andrew Solomon on the supposed backlash against LGBTQ rights in the United States, with a fierce focus on DeSantis. Then the rhetoric went from grossly unfair to absolutely unhinged.

The hysterical overreaction to DeSantis’s anti-“woke” moves in schools began in the introduction.

First, Solomon told of his “shocking experience” when he lectured on youth suicide at a Texas children’s hospital, when he was asked to skip a hot-button story about a transgender child.  

Amanpour wasn’t too put off by the unhinged rhetoric of her guest: “–that is pretty harsh. Blood dripping from their hands. What do you mean?”

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Amanpour used a false characterization, “Don’t Say Gay,” cribbed from anti-DeSantis Democratic talking points, to further paint DeSantis as hostile to LGBTQ. As another public entity, National Public Radio, accurately reported, “The law says public school teachers may not instruct on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through third grade.” But truth sounds less scary.

Amanpour & Co.

January 26, 2023

11:18:50 p.m.

AMANPOUR: Human rights are under fire all over the world and in the west, particularly in the United States where new state laws target gay, trans, and minority populations. In his nonfiction hit, “Far from the Tree”, the author, Andrew Solomon, brings empathy to those on the margins. Sharing stories of families who are raising children who challenged society’s definition of normal.

AMANPOUR: And I spoke with Solomon about the remarkable social progress he has experienced, and the backlash that threatens to undermine it.

AMANPOUR: Andrew Solomon, welcome to the program.

ANDREW SOLOMON, AUTHOR, “FAR FROM THE TREE”: What a pleasure to be here.

AMANPOUR: And you are here in London and you have screened the documentary, “Far from the Tree”, for Human Rights Watch. I’m interested to know why. Why that film? Why Human Rights Watch? What’s the connection?

SOLOMON: I have been very involved with two programs with human rights watch, the disability program and the LGBT program. And they are particularly strong in both of those arenas. You know, if somebody who has the disability to mental health complained and who is gay, I am very aware of how the rights and privileges available to me are unavailable to people in most of the world.

AMANPOUR: So, the interesting thing is, “Far from the Tree”, it’s about parenting and surprise, you know, surprises that can develop in parenting and children. For example, parents of queer children, deaf children, those with dwarfism, et cetera. What do you see has changed in the years, the decades since you wrote the book?

SOLOMON: Well, there’s no question that people are more aware of disability rights. That the idea of disability rights has been validated and the notion that the lives of people with disabilities have their own valor and their own value. The life with disabilities aren’t automatically ones with our project. That has come to be more in the public conversation. On gay rights, gay marriage is spreading. It’s become more ubiquitous, but there are still so many examples of terrible prejudice in parts of the world where homosexuality is not accepted. But also, in the U.S. and in the U.K., and in other major developed countries, problems for people who want to have families, problems for people who get fired from their jobs, problems for people who do not get the housing they want. And an enormous amount of violence that is directed against LGBTQ people who, in most of the world, had very little protection.

AMANPOUR: And especially children because I have seen some of your other articles, that you know — I mean, maybe adults can deal with it somewhat better than children. You also had that experience in your childhood, right?

SOLOMON: I did. I was very secretive about the fact that I was gay, at least I thought I was being secretive. And I had a family that was not pleased when I finally came out in my early 20s and I struggled a lot with the sense that I was somehow broken or damaged and that I belonged at the margins, and that I would never have the basic satisfactions of life. The idea that I would end up married to a man with a family was not only something I failed to mention. It was something that was unimaginable when I was growing up.

AMANPOUR: Did your parents ever become pleased, satisfied, accepting of you?

SOLOMON: My mother died a couple of years after I came out. So, we did not have very much time, but before she died, she said all the right things. I’m not sure she meant them, but she said them.

AMANPOUR: That is good though.

SOLOMON: It was a good — yes.

AMANPOUR: Talk about that then. Because for parents who don’t know, and who are struggling, what should they do? I mean, obviously, we know what they should do, but those who are really struggling, at least saying the right things, did it give you some comfort?

SOLOMON: It did give me comfort. And I think it made my father’s acceptance more possible. And he, in the end, threw us a beautiful wedding and was very embracing.


SOLOMON: But I think parents really need to recognize that their children feel isolated and are suffering, even in situations where there appears to be great acceptance. You have to understand that it’s difficult.

AMANPOUR: So, you mentioned many countries where it’s just, frankly, illegal and paying of death in many African countries, many Islamic countries, and it’s terrible, and that happens now. But in the United States of America, so-called global superpower based on human rights and universal rights, freedom of expression, freedom to be the individual.

We’re seeing right now today the very laws and norms and social acceptances that have come towards LGBTQ being challenged, whether it’s at the court level or, let’s just say, the governor of Florida, or somebody who clearly wants to be the next president, has implemented a whole raft of strange, strange requests, bills, laws. How do you see it going in Florida?

SOLOMON: There was a study that came out a few weeks ago that said that children growing up in States where gay marriage was legal, prior to federal recognition, had significantly better mental health than children growing up in States where it was illegal. And I had, what was to me, a shocking experience which is that I was giving a lecture on youth suicide that was sponsored by the largest children’s hospital in Northern Texas.

And I went down there and before I came, they said someone was going to interview me after the lecture, and they wanted to look over my notes before I came down. And I said, well my notes won’t make that much sense to you. I said, but I’ll send you some of the anecdotes I’m going to tell.

AMANPOUR: Because you scribbled them? Yes.

SOLOMON: Exactly. And so, I sent them a few things and I got a message from the children’s hospital saying, one of the people you talked about is transgender. And transgender children is a very politicized issue here, and we feel that you are talking about that will alienate a lot of people. So, we would like to ask you to skip that story.

And I ended up giving the lecture, telling that story, and ending by saying that anyone who supported legislation like the legislation in Texas, that takes medical decisions out of the hands of children, their doctors, and their parents, and puts it in the hands of people who have no qualifications, thereby further stigmatizing —

AMANPOUR: Such as politicians?

SOLOMON: Exactly. Thereby further stigmatizing what is already the most marginalized group in America, that those people have blood dripping from

their hands. And it seems to me —

AMANPOUR: That is pretty harsh. Blood dripping from their hands.


AMANPOUR: What do you mean?

SOLOMON: Well, that the rate of suicide among trans children is the highest after children who were sexually abused in early childhood in the nation. And if you said to me that a children’s hospital did not want to touch something that is killing a record-breaking number of children, what kind of responsibility is that to the larger society?

And in the States, where there are these laws, and where trans children aren’t able to live as who they are, the rates of suicide among them are incredibly high.

AMANPOUR: OK. I’m going to get that in a moment. But first, I want to ask you about youth suicide, young people suicide, which is as you say exploding right off the record levels. So, you wrote a really powerful essay entitled, “The Mystifying Rise of Child Suicide”. I want you to just read — we’ve given it to you, we’ve printed out a small extract from the article, and then we’ll talk about it.

SOLOMON: Children’s worlds may be smaller than adults, but their emotional horizons are just as wide. Because we find our own pain observed once it relents, most of us don’t tell people when we’ve had a night of clawing at our inner selves.

AMANPOUR: And it’s very powerful and very poignant because your article is about a young child who actually commits suicide just before his 12th birthday. He — you knew of him because he was at school for a period of time with your own son. What did you conclude happened there?

SOLOMON: What most struck me was that this was a child who had some struggles, whose parents were well-educated, well-connected, well-off. They did everything they could for him. They were incredibly loving, attentive, dedicated, devoted parents, and they didn’t get the help that they needed. Which is not to say that any help could necessarily have saved their son, but they struggled to find a way through. And I thought if families like that are struggling, then what is happening to people in rural parts of the middle west? What’s happening to impoverished immigrants living in the urban jungle? What’s happening to all of the people who don’t have that kind of access? And what I discovered when I began doing my research is that the rate of child and youth suicide has escalated incredibly, dramatically, especially since 2012. It’s been

going up since the ’50s, but really since 2012.


SOLOMON: Well, I think it has a lot to do with social media and the spread of cell phones. I think it has to do with helicopter parenting and the way that children end up feeling they are not confident to act and to live in the world. And I think it also has to do with the general pressures of modern life in which the pressure to succeed is greater. In which circumstances are more crowded. I mean, I could list 50 reasons, but I think those are the lead ones.

AMANPOUR: You’ve probably heard of the latest film that’s just come out called, “The Son”, it’s by Florian Zeller?, it stars Hugh Jackman as the father of a young boy with clear mental health problems that nobody could figure out. Here is what Hugh Jackman told me about it when I asked him.

HUGH JACKMAN, ACTOR, “THE SON”: The story centers around a young man, 17- year-old, going through a severe mental health crisis. But actually, what we are doing is watching it and feeling this through the people around him.

His parents, the teachers, the people who are in contact, and how they deal with it and try to help. Because I think we are living in a time where there is so much ignorance, and frankly shame, and embarrassment about the issue. We don’t know a lot. We just feel unsure to talk about it. Somehow there is a feeling of shame. And that it’s something that as a parent, I should be able to fix. I should be able to do.

AMANPOUR: Depression is often not recognized.

SOLOMON: Well, parents are often in denial, as I think the parents in “The Son” are and don’t see things because they are too painful to recognize. But also, people are very good at keeping secrets. Children and young people keep secrets. I kept a secret that I was gay for years and years and I thought I was incredibly close to my parents. We were incredibly close except that we never talked about the most significant thing about me.

And so, I think children who are depressed. Some of them are obviously going to pieces, and those, in many ways, are the ones who are easier to help. It’s the ones who hide it who are so difficult. And at least half of youth suicides are committed by people who did not, in the past, give any indication that they were struggling with mental illness.

AMANPOUR: Tell me if I’m getting this wrong. Did you have to go through conversion therapy?

SOLOMON: I put myself into a form of conversion therapy —


SOLOMON: — when I was about 17. I did something called sexual surrogacy therapy in which I went and met with women and there was a sort of supervising man who called himself a doctor, and I had these sexual exercises. It was my attempt to become straight. And it rose out of a great deal of self-hatred and a lack of self-acceptance. It wasn’t that my parents sent me there, but I thing the messages in my household were that led me to go there.

AMANPOUR: And you suffered depression. Did your father help you? Did your parents help you get out of that depression? Your mother did die shortly after you came out. Did your father help?

SOLOMON: My father helped enormously. He was a remarkable man. He died just in January of last year. And yes, it was a time when I wasn’t in a relationship, and when many things in my life were very unstable and uncertain, and I ended up moving back in with him. Someone once said to me, oh, your father really gave you a safety net. And I said, no. My father is actually on the trapeze with me. He wasn’t just giving me a safety net.

AMANPOUR: Well, isn’t that a nice way to put it, especially after all of that alienation that you went through together. So, let’s fast forward a little bit to the actual current day, and that is the, you know, the political situation. There is a massive culture war going on in the United States and in other democracies, actually. And it’s often around women, around the marginalized, around minorities, LGBTQ. And we see from, you know, banning books on the issue to — what do they say in Florida? Don’t say gay —


AMANPOUR: — or whatever. I mean, what effect, do you think, that will have? Do you think that will stick? Is it possible? I mean, you see a lot of counterprotests. You saw the, you know, the votes in the midterm elections were around the idea of, you know, independents and human rights frankly.

SOLOMON: Well, look, when the Supreme Court made its atrocious decision throwing out women’s right to reproductive choice, Clarence Thomas, in his opinion, wrote that there should also be a re-examination of the right to gay marriage. The right to gay marriage is the most significant breakthrough that we’ve had in many decades. There is an enormous backlash against us.

There is always a backlash against change and against difference, but there’s also been a great deal of cynical activity by politicians who use these social issues as divisive measures in order to frighten the populace into voting for them. And distract by doing so from more basic issues of freedom and economic justice and so on, that I think are really at the base of the problems in the U.S. and in much of the developed world.

AMANPOUR: It’s been said that, you know, when you start banning books, you start, you know, really clamping down on human rights, all the issues we’ve just been talking about. Do you see a direct line from one to the other?

SOLOMON: Well, look, my book has now been banned in a number of school districts. And so, I —

AMANPOUR: In the United States?

SOLOMON: Yes. And so, I’ve experienced this. And people said to me when it happened, oh, it’s kind of a kick. You know, your book must really matter

if they’re bothering to ban them. And I thought it might be my attitude. It’s actually an incredibly upsetting and difficult experience to feel that words that you wrote and invested to the best of your knowledge only with love, have been seen as so dangerous and so damaging that people shouldn’t be exposed to them.

There is a real attempt in the United States, and I’m afraid there are elements of it from both the right and the left, to restrict open speech and to restrict their sharing of knowledge and information and ideas. On social media, you mostly interact with people who agree with you because that’s the way the algorithms work. And what it has done is to factionalize the country, and perhaps much of the world, to a point where people are taking more and more extreme positions. And it’s not simply that they are unsympathetic to what the other side believes, it’s that they don’t understand it and they don’t know where it came from.

And so, there is no point of contact and there is no effort for it or even grounds for compromise.

AMANPOUR: That is pretty dark. So, where do you see the light? I mean obviously, you know, human progress is always based on oppression and push back.


AMANPOUR: You know, resistance. So, in this regard, where do you see hope?

SOLOMON: There’s a lot of hope, I think, simply in the lives that people are leading. I mean, I feel like I would not probably have gotten married and had children if it weren’t for the work of the activists who came before me, and the activists of my generation have done a lot, and there’s a next generation coming up. I lecture sometimes in the LGBT program at the university where I studied in America. And —

AMANPOUR: Which is?

SOLOMON: Which is Yale. And when I go there, I say, you know, the program was set up by Larry Kramer, who was an important gay activist.

AMANPOUR: Oh, yes.

SOLOMON: And he talks about what it was like to be gay at Yale in the 1950s, and I think I would have died. And he indeed made a suicide attempt. And I think I’m so lucky that I was there in the ’80s instead. And then I see the people who are there now and I feel so envious of them. And I always say that my fondest hope is that someday they will come back and they will be as envious of the next generation as I am of them.

AMANPOUR: And, wow. And you think, you know, Larry Kramer got over that impulse and essentially lead America to change its HIV-AIDS policy and all the rest of it. It does show, actually, what you can do.

SOLOMON: Yes. I think there is enormous room for progress. And I think there is great determination. And I think there is a very broad, general population who are actually sympathetic to what are often couched as liberal causes. Most Americans, over a very short period of time, have gone from disapproving of gay marriage to approving of it. The center is very movable in America. The noise comes from the edges, but the center tends to shift toward justice.

AMANPOUR: And the center is also very much, you know — it’s very much sort of a fait accompli amongst young people. I mean, you talk to young people about any of these issues and they are like, yes, and? Yes, this is normal. So, does that give you some hope? You know, given that you study young people and their mental health and bullying and this and that. What is it like for young people in schools these days if they are gay or?

SOLOMON: I had a nice moment of revelation where in the midst of the school’s application process for my son, for high school. And one of the schools — as an essay question said, can you write about your identity and how your being at our school will enrich the diversity of identities at our school?

And our son looked at us and her said, look, I’m a relatively, privileged, straight white boy from a private school. He said, I don’t know what to do with this. And I said, well — I said, you can write about the fact that you are in a gay family. And he said, that’s not very interesting. And I thought, you know, it wasn’t very long ago that that would have been so interesting, that there was nothing else to talk about.

AMANPOUR: That’s amazing. Andrew Solomon, thank you so much, indeed.

SOLOMON: Thank you. A pleasure.

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