Mask off, mask on: Kathleen Goonan, advisor to SEGM and Genspect, taught Moms for Liberty to “play a dual game” and pretend to support parents who accept their trans kids

Zinnia Jones
13 min readOct 23, 2023

Then she pretended to support these parents on a podcast with Genspect’s founder.

Since 2022, former healthcare executive Kathleen “Kate” Goonan has worked with the anti-trans groups Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) and Genspect to advance restrictions on gender-affirming care for trans youth. At SEGM, Goonan attended an April 25, 2022 meeting with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the group argued against “hormonal and surgical interventions that have not been proven to be effective” and described gender-affirming care as “a euphemism for a highly invasive treatment protocol for minors” (in “Remarks HHS meeting_2022”). Goonan later appeared as a panel moderator at SEGM’s October 9–12 “International Perspectives Conference” in New York, an alternative conference that originated when the group’s proposed panels at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) were all rejected.

Within Genspect, “Dr. Kate” has played a central role in their “Parent Advocacy Programme” since 2022, offering to “liaise with professionals” for unaccepting parents of trans youth for “a small fee”. According to Genspect, this advocacy consists of contacting the child’s “teachers and school counsellors to therapists, paediatricians, mental health workers and other clinicians” to “put forward a different point of view about how best to support gender-questioning youth”. One testimonial from parents in the UK describes their family’s circumstances:

Our daughter’s school allowed her to socially transition without parental consent or knowledge. We have had incredible support from Genspect and that’s how Kate was introduced to us to be our advocate.

But outside of SEGM’s and Genspect’s bland advocacy for more evidence and different points of view, Kathleen Goonan reveals a distinctly reactionary edge, appearing as a panelist or speaker on “gender ideology” in March and October of this year at events hosted by the anti-government extremist group Moms for Liberty. “Gender ideology” is a pejorative term of Catholic origin (Vaggione, 2020) used worldwide by anti-trans activists, like Heritage Foundation’s Jay W. Richards, to deny that gender identity meaningfully exists or can differ from assigned sex (Toldy & Garraio, 2020). Those who believe that there is a “gender ideology” therefore refuse to acknowledge that trans people exist as trans people and possess the very characteristic that distinguishes us as a group from cis people. Gender ideology rhetoric serves to dehumanize trans people by reducing us to an abstract “-ism” of beliefs to be eradicated from society, distracting from the inconvenient fact that this would actually require eradicating the human beings whose very selves materially constitute the “ideology”. As I explained at a school board meeting where the Seminole County Moms for Liberty had gathered to attack LGBT high school students for making a yearbook page: I am the gender ideology.

Code switch

At the March 23, 2023 town hall “Giving Parents A Voice: Exposing Gender Ideology” in Eldersburg, Maryland, hosted by Moms for Liberty’s Maryland chapters and sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Goonan participated in a panel discussion with Erin Brewer, January Littlejohn, and Jay W. Richards.

  • Brewer has worked with anti-trans groups Advocates Protecting Children and Partners for Ethical Care, claims to be a “former trans kid”, and previously testified in favor of Florida’s trans youth care ban at the November 4, 2022 Boards of Medicine hearing; APC endorses gender ideology rhetoric and has asserted “[t]here is no such thing as ‘true trans,’ and specifically there is no such thing as a transgender child”.
  • Littlejohn, senior fellow of the anti-trans group Do No Harm, testified at the October 28 Boards of Medicine hearing, and previously supported her trans child in 2020 before backtracking and assisting Gov. Ron DeSantis in successfully promoting the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
  • Jay W. Richards, of Heritage Foundation and the creationist Discovery Institute, filed an amicus brief (ECF no. 123–1 in Dekker v. Weida) supporting Florida’s ban on Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care, featuring strawman arguments such as “the notion that detransitioners do not exist is a myth”.

In no sense is Kathleen Goonan out of place among this group: she’s quite comfortable and unrestrained in sharing the true goals of her anti-trans activism and what she really thinks of parents who accept their trans children. In this setting, she abandons the pretense of SEGM, Genspect, and related groups as being packed with well-meaning lifelong liberals and moderates who simply have ‘concerns’ about this one issue. During the panel, Goonan reveals that she arrived at Genspect by way of anti-trans psychiatrist Paul McHugh, a fellow member of the Catholic Church (55:34):

So when I was looking to retire, I started talking to people like Abigail Shrier, who wrote Irreversible Damage. She sent me to Dr. Paul McHugh, who I know from my faith. And they encouraged me to get involved, and one step led to another, and I found my way to Genspect.

McHugh was responsible for closing the Johns Hopkins gender clinic in 1979, citing a study that seemed to show no benefit to patients who received transition treatment; this low-quality study was criticized for its arbitrary and ambiguous measures (Fleming et al., 1980), and McHugh later revealed in 1992 that he sought to close the clinic before the study was ever conducted: “It was part of my intention, when I arrived in Baltimore in 1975, to help end it” (McHugh, 1992). He went on to coauthor a 2016 position statement, “Gender Ideology Harms Children”, for the hate group American College of Pediatricians; ACPEDS leader Michelle Cretella described the statement’s authors as “devout Catholics with a knowledge of and respect for the natural law”. Elsewhere, McHugh has argued that “the belligerent frenzy characteristic of media reports on priestly sexual abuse has done much damage and needs to stop”, claimed that the Catholic sexual abuse scandals are “obviously homosexual predation on Catholic youth”, and described homosexuality as an “erroneous desire”:

If you are a man and you grow up in a rural environment, you are four times less likely to have homosexual relationships than if you grow up in a metropolitan area. That’s not left-handedness. If you are a lesbian, you are much more likely to be college-educated. That’s not something that happens at conception. […] It really is amazing … I mean, 50 years ago [homosexual behavior] was a crime, and now we’re talking about [same-sex marriage]. Anyone who wants to stick with the tradition is accused of being a biblical literalist or a homophobic racist, because, in part, of the more fundamental change in our society towards permissiveness, that is, easy divorce, cohabitation and concubinage, abortion, pornography … and euthanasia. The issue of the homosexual is not separate … it’s all part and parcel of the pandemonium that the permissive movement has brought. We have just licensed all kinds of behavior. […] So, there is this confusion of desire and love. [Homosexuality] is erroneous desire.

Like McHugh, Goonan doesn’t shy away from invoking themes of predation, making the groundless assertion that the terminology of comprehensive sexual education leads to child grooming (1:41:58):

Yeah, I would go back and watch Miriam Grossman’s second part of her presentation on Epoch Times. It’s two hours where she goes through the history of sex education and how this early introduction to sexual terminology is all laying the groundwork for grooming.

Child psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, a consultant to Florida during the implementation of the Medicaid exclusion (purchase orders BB0FD3, C0550C), states that she has referred patients for anti-gay conversion practices. Grossman is clinically supervised (p. 34) by another Florida expert witness, Stephen Levine — a coauthor of the SEGM-linked Gender Exploratory Therapy Association’s 2022 guide to non-affirming therapy for trans and gender-diverse youth. Although SEGM and Genspect have gone to great lengths to deny that this non-affirming approach constitutes anti-trans conversion practices (even attempting to rebrand this as “ethical psychotherapy”), Goonan openly acknowledges that laws against conversion practices have significantly limited GETA’s activities (57:21):

There’s an organization now called GETA, the Gender Exploratory Therapy Association, which is trying to recruit therapists who will work with these individuals. But it’s not easy, because of the conversion laws. They’re very afraid. I will say I believe we can do it, I believe there are — I know therapists who will do it, who can do it. We have to do it very carefully.

“They’re wearing their children like Gucci bags”

She goes on to describe how she assists parents in locating gender-disaffirming providers (59:55: “I’ve talked to 140 families”), offering recommendations that amount to stereotyping based on age, religion, or national origin (1:16:47):

And if you’re looking for help in any way, you need to be the one that really asks all the questions. I would also say, you know, be thoughtful about it. Over a certain age, people are more likely to be aghast at this, but they aren’t gonna put a sign on the door that ‘I’m not gender affirming’. If they’re from a faith, Muslim doctors are excellent in this regard, because they aren’t gonna buy into it at all. People from other countries, or Asia, or Latin America. So I help people look for the kind of doctor that I know may not say they’re non-affirming, but they will be. I think that’s really important.

Goonan makes similarly broad generalizations about trans youth themselves, describing them as universally self-centered and suggesting without basis that their gender dysphoria could be resolved by outdoors activities (59:55):

And so what we end up talking about is, okay, what is the plan? We’re gonna unwind the relationship with that pediatrician, we’re gonna go find a different therapist, or we’re gonna find no therapist, because this child doesn’t need to be told they’re sick. They’re not sick. We need to tell them they’re healthy. We need to get them outdoors, we need to get them into sports, we need to explore the world, anything but fixating on themselves. Because one of the things they do is just think about themselves. That’s all they think about.

As for parents who already accept their trans kids as they are, Goonan shows them hardly any tolerance at all, insulting them as mentally ill and accusing them of treating their children like accessories (1:29:58):

Don’t get too judgmental of the parents who’ve fallen prey to it, because they’re out there, and they’ll fight with you. Respect them. They’re wearing their children like Gucci bags, and I could talk to you about their mental diagnoses, but we have to treat them as just another part of the fold and respect them. But pull those you can into the fold, and we will win.

This notion of “respect” for us and our allies is deceptive and obviously hollow: it is vastly offensive and dehumanizing to imply that trans people ourselves cannot competently attest to our own identities and experiences, or that our transness only exists as a result of some deliberate manipulation imposed by cisgender people — as if a cis person must always be the true author of who we are. This is absolutely disrespectful, and no person wishes to be “respected” in this way. However, Goonan prefers to describe this approach as playing “a dual game”, acting as though they respect supportive parents “for a while” even as she admits pro-trans parents are the overwhelming majority (1:46:21):

GOONAN: So we’re gonna have to say those parents have — that is their right to make that request. My request is different, my request is: my child is not gonna be asked for their pronouns, they are obviously a boy or a girl, and I don’t want them asked to wear a button that says their pronouns. You’re gonna — we’re gonna have to play a dual game for a while. I’ve been to the school board meetings in Harford County where the bulk of the parents talking about this topic were advocating for social transition. They were thanking the school for transitioning their kids. So we’re just gonna have to bring the presence forward of those that don’t agree, and ask them to play — to meet our needs as well. It’s gonna be awkward for a while, but I think we’re stuck with doing that. But it will — we’ll gain momentum, we’ll have more and more parents say ‘what do you mean they’re asking my kid for pronouns?’ We’re gonna be — we’re gonna have to live in two worlds for a while. But right now they’re living in one.

RICHARDS: The wrong one.

GOONAN: The wrong one.

Contrary to her public pretense that some form of coexistence could be possible here, Goonan makes clear that she opposes even reversible social transition for children — including other families’ children — on the grounds that “boys can’t become girls, girls can’t become boys” (1:16:47):

The power of social transition is not to be underestimated. It is a major psychogenic intervention. And we have to fight against it at every step and raise questions about it from the moment you see any sign of it in your children, your grandchildren, your children’s friends. And you don’t back down. From the moment you hear the introduction to the idea of social transition, you need to step up with love and with facts. But boys can’t become girls, girls can’t become boys.

Playing the dual game: “The policy allows for parents to be in the driver’s seat”

This overt anti-trans sentiment was mostly absent when Goonan next appeared on the July 7 episode of Gender: A Wider Lens, a podcast hosted by Genspect founder Stella O’Malley and SEGM advisor Sasha Ayad.

On episode 121, “Practical Advice for Managing Gender Identity in Schools with Dr. Kate Goonan”, she appears to understand that the term “gender ideology” is increasingly recognized as a contested political view, and recommends that anti-trans parents should not use this phrase when talking to school staff (21:29):

AYAD: Can I ask a kind of practical question? Earlier you mentioned something about gender ideology or something along those lines. Given that we’re talking about being really specific regarding the individual child and their particular needs and their particular struggles, is there specific language that you may invite parents to use? Like would you tell, would you suggest for a parent to say something like ‘please don’t share gender ideology with my child’? Or how can families maybe frame this in a way that you think is cooperative with the school, and doesn’t kind of raise these political red flags? Like I’m wondering if that is something that you think about, because I think about that a lot.

GOONAN: I agree with you about that. I would not use the term gender ideology. I would not use any political language at all.

Later in the episode, Goonan recounts her anti-trans activism targeting the school board of Frederick County, Maryland, and she frames her model policy in the very same fashion she recommended to Moms for Liberty: presenting this as an approach that respects the wishes of affirming parents (55:27).

So the current federal policies coming out of the Department of Education in the United States are very affirmative, but they’re not binding, and so a school district board can educate itself and can absolutely comply with any existing regulations, but not be affirming. So we’ve been working very hard on a regular basis educating the board about what options they have, the way they could become an innovator and show how basically, if a family firmly believes their child should be transitioned, the school district can work with them and do that. But if a family does not believe that’s the right course of action for their child, the school — the teachers would abide by that, and the policy allows for parents to be in the driver’s seat.

This expressed position is clearly specific to certain audiences and contexts. During her next presentation on October 5 at a “Gender Ideology Forum” with Moms for Liberty of Howard County, Maryland, Goonan resumed calling for research into how to “prevent” the hoax condition of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (27:02), and claimed incorrectly that gender affirmation is itself a form of conversion therapy (30:14):

Now the word gets applied in this context: if I find someone a psychotherapist who’ll help them work on sorting out why they’re thinking of changing their sex or taking drugs to become the opposite sex, that in the media is getting called, and in some legal settings getting called the new conversion therapy. It’s not conversion therapy at all. It’s exploratory therapy. Why do you have these feelings? Where do they come from? What do we — just where did the distress start? So, but gender affirmation is actually truly conversion therapy, because what we’re doing is encouraging people that they can actually become the opposite sex and that we can give them drugs and surgery to make them go from being male to female. So that’s the ultimate conversion therapy, but we’re calling it gender affirmation.

In a discussion with Genspect blogger Tom Neumark, she explains how they intend to advance these policies: not with logic, but with threats (1:24:45).

But, Tom, wouldn’t you say it’s also aggressive activism, public activism? Because, you know, the logic is not going to change their minds. It’s going to be lots of parents, lots of publicity, lots of activism. Lawsuit threats, media coverage, not logic. And we got to — we got to play aggressive and just as dirty as they do.

Analysis

It would be beyond the scope of this article to speculate whether O’Malley and Ayad are unwittingly being used by Kathleen Goonan to advance Moms for Liberty’s deceptive and temporary compromise, or whether they are knowingly allowing their platforms to be used for this purpose. The function this serves is the same in either case: Moms for Liberty and associated groups do not intend to respect supportive parents of trans kids for any longer than necessary to achieve their ultimate goals, while Genspect attempts to present these policies in a way that could appeal to all parents. This will mislead their allegedly more liberal and open-minded audience into believing they can allow some trans youth with disaffirming parents to be jeopardized, while still protecting those youth whose parents support them. This is not possible: as Goonan’s admissions reveal, this will never be their ideal long-term policy, and no trans kids will be safe as long as any trans kids are unsafe.

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Zinnia Jones

Trans feminist writer, researcher, and activist. Creator of Gender Analysis. Florida. She/her. https://patreon.com/zinniajones