Cults are typically most successful when they prey on those who are lonely or isolated—those who feel they do not “fit in” with others—and those who are looking for meaning in their lives and so trust that others have the answers. The current transgender movement has many parallels to some of the most notorious modern-day cults in terms of the recruitment strategies used, the secrecy, the alienation from family and friends, the indoctrination in the transgender ideology in public schools and on social media, and the refusal to allow dissenting voices.
Just as transgendered individuals claim that they are in the “wrong body,” each of the 39 members of the notorious Heavens Gate suicide cult became convinced that they also were “in the wrong bodies” prior to committing mass suicide in 1997 in a Rancho Santa Fe, California mansion. Like transgendered individuals, Heavens Gate members became alienated from their bodies. They began to believe that they were actually alien beings from outer space, incarnate in human bodies with a mission to teach others about the possibility of reaching a new stage of existence. For the Heavens Gate cult members, the only way to reach this new stage was to first rid themselves of their despised gendered bodies through surgical castration and hormone therapy—and later through mass suicide when they would finally be free of their human bodies.
In a letter that accompanied a suicide video that was released shortly after the bodies were found, the members of the Heavens Gate cult claimed that they “came from the Level Above Human in distant space and have now exited the bodies that we were wearing for our earthly task.” Calling their bodies “vehicles” or “containers” to be shed through their suicides, most of the 18 male Heavens Gate members had already undergone surgical procedures to castrate themselves in order to rid themselves of gendered desires and behaviors. Female Heaven’s Gate members engaged in Hormone therapy and shaved their heads to appear androgynous. All wore exactly the same clothing – black “flight suits” and black Nike sneakers with Velcro fasteners.
This rejection of their earthly bodies was encouraged by Heaven’s Gate leader Marshall Applewhite who was the first to be surgically castrated in an attempt to ensure he remained celibate. Applewhite had reason to try and repress his sexuality and that of his followers. In 1970 he had been fired from his job as a music professor at the Houston’s University of St. Thomas “after administrators there learned that Applewhite was in a relationship with a male student there.”
Applewhite then began a platonic relationship with a nurse named Bonnie Nettles, who he met during his stay in a psychiatric hospital. Together Applewhite and Nettles recruited hundreds of followers around the country and required them to dress alike, cut their hair, and repress any sexual identity. At the core of their ideology was the belief that the human body was a mere vessel for an asexual soul that could find salvation only in its home in outer space. Researchers who have studied Applewhite claimed that he was so alienated from his homosexuality that he was teaching people not to have sex: “He would put people of opposite sexes together and force them to learn to become neutral, nonsexual.”
Following the 1997 suicides, The Washington Post reported that when the suicide victims at Ranch Santa Fe, California were first discovered, police at first believed them all to be male. They were all identically dressed in black flight suits and black sneakers: “Their idea of perfection was a kind of androgyny…All buzz cuts, all dressed to erase any trace of sexuality.”
In some ways, the current transgender movement parallels the desire to reject one’s sexual identity that the Heaven’s Gate members experienced. One mother of two children who identify as transgender said that she has lost her children to what she called the transgender “cult”. She claims that the transgender community “really has some very cult-like characteristics to it…The trans narrative is promoted on college campuses deeply…there are trans dorms, there’s trans health care, there is trans clubs…As soon as you say that you’re trans, you get love-bombed…You get love-bombed online, you get love-bombed at school…As soon as you say you’re trans, you turn into a star. And kids are thirsty for that kind of affirmation.”
The love-bombing recruitment strategies are no longer confined to college campuses—they now begin in pre-school. Drag Queen Story Hours have been occurring at public libraries throughout the country—all geared to pre-school children—without as much pushback as you might think. For example, this 2020 video of a Portland Drag Queen Story Hour promises children they can meet “drag queens and drag creatures.” The Drag Queen Story Hour Facebook page lists recent events that have taken place on university campuses, at public parks, book fairs, art museums, and, of course, libraries.
The transgender community relies upon schools to convince children that it is perfectly normal for them to feel alienated from their “assigned gender.” There have been several videos posted online recently of teachers telling their students that they can reject the gender that the doctor “assigned to them” because as one Boston first-grade teacher said, doctors sometimes make mistakes when they try to “guess” the gender of a newborn baby.
But parents are beginning to pay attention and some are becoming proactive in responding. Just as de-programmers in the 1980s helped to end much of the cult activity on college campuses, parents have been lobbying lawmakers to begin to address the transgender recruitment problem in public schools. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has confronted this problem, and parents and most voters in Florida show overwhelming support for his 2022 Florida Parental Rights bill barring any school-based conversations about the transgender ideology for children in Kindergarten through third grade. Many critics of the bill have presented it as hateful and “anti-LGBTQIA+”, but without responding to the actual contents of the bill, which focus as parental rights. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, who describes herself as “bisexual”, tweeted, “In Oregon, we say gay. I’m horrified and outraged by the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation that was just signed in Florida, making schools a less safe space for LGBTQIA+ kids.”
Although Pope Francis has not mentioned the Florida bill, he has been strongly critical of gender theory on several occasions, stating that teaching it in school is a form of “cultural colonization” and calling it a “great enemy” of marriage. But such papal pronouncements seems to have little effect on bishops who have been sending mixed messages and protecting priests who provide platforms to increase the visibility of transgendered parishioners. The Church of Our Lady of Grace in Hoboken, New Jersey, celebrated its annual Pride Mass in support of the LGBTQ community with a homily delivered by Christine Zuba, a transgender woman from New Jersey. Rev. Alexander Santora, a priest for 40 years told reporters that “the other worshippers rose and applauded…our Church was opened in 1878, I wanted Christine to be on that pulpit.” Zuba serves as a “Eucharistic Minister” at a nearby parish, Saints Peter and Paul in Turnersville, New Jersey.
However, a growing number of dioceses and faithful Catholic campuses are refusing to cooperate with the cult of transgenderism. For example, Bishop John Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette has issued a statement indicating that “Our fundamental approach to persons with same sex attraction and persons with gender dysphoria is pastoral accompaniment: a loving interpersonal encounter along the road to deeper faith in Jesus Christ.” But the statement also cautions that “we are not defined or identified by our sexual attractions or conflicts about sexual identity. Our fundamental identity is as a beloved son or daughter of God. Thus, it is best to avoid identifying persons merely using labels such as gay or transgender.” Still, Bishop Doerfler added that a person who publicly identifies as a different gender than his or her biological sex or has attempted “gender transitioning” may not serve as a sponsor or a Christian witness for Baptism and Confirmation unless the person has repented.
It is impossible of course to predict just how much longer the cult of transgenderism will continue. It is possible the movement will decline as the transgendered individuals who were allowed to surgically or hormonally transition as minors grow up and realize that they never consented to the mutilating surgery or hormonal therapy begin to sue the doctors and therapists who took advantage of them during vulnerable periods of their lives. Perhaps such lawsuits could usher in the end of recruitment of children into the nightmare of transgenderism.
But it still remains to be seen whether or not legal action will affect the continued growth of the adult transgender cult, which relies so heavily on both activism and deception. “If one lesson can be learned from the Florida bill,” wrote Leor Sapir in a recent City Journal essay, “it’s that the success of trans activism depends on the public’s willingness to confuse policies that promote gender self-identification—for which public support is shaky at best—with policies that support gay and lesbian people, for which support is deeper and broader.” Sapir believes the “national fight” over transgenderism to be “escalating”. But others see signs of hope. “People seem to have been galvanized by the Lia Thomas issue,” said Carl R. Trueman in a CWR interview this past week, “and the apparent evidence that trans ideology is being used in schools to confuse children and subvert parental authority. I hope that we are witnessing the beginning of significant resistance to this lunacy.”
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