Peggy McFarland’s conscience wouldn’t let her stay silent.
As a mother, teacher, and licensed professional clinical counselor, McFarland has repeatedly seen girls become conditioned to despise their own bodies, especially when they hit puberty.
“I just feel so brokenhearted,” she told The Epoch Times, “when I have seen how they start hating their bodies and being embarrassed and ashamed.
“And I just have this deep desire: ‘How can I help these girls to feel that growing up being a girl is something wonderful—and not something terrifying?'”
After raising her “blended family” of five daughters and four sons, McFarland has dedicated her professional life to correcting and preventing body-image damage among girls. She even wrote a curriculum titled “Healthy Transitions for Girls.”
But now, she said, “the culture has exploited” girls’ tendency to be self-critical, leading many girls to seek to “transition” into boys. That path is fraught with life-long social, medical, and health implications.
Yet, across the United States, privacy laws and professional requirements block counselors such as McFarland from objecting to that course of treatment.
Troubled that she could be thrust into such a moral and ethical dilemma, McFarland became the driving force behind a proposed Idaho law that would apply when counselors confront a crisis of conscience.
The one-page bill, released on Feb. 1, makes a straightforward declaration: “No person providing counseling or therapy services will be required to counsel or serve a client regarding goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist.”
Opposition and Support
The law would apply not only to transgender-related issues but also to other scenarios; the bill makes no mention of the word “gender.”
Even so, the blowback against Idaho House Bill 63 was almost immediate.
About five minutes after the bill was printed, its sponsor, Idaho Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot), got a phone call in opposition to it. In an email, a therapist alleged that the bill contradicts accepted counseling principles.
However, Young and McFarland are convinced that the proposal serves the best interests of therapists, clients, and parents.
Scott Newgent, a nationally known transgender person who opposes gender-transitioning of children, agrees.
Born female, Newgent bore three children before undergoing sex-change surgeries—procedures Newgent soon regretted. Reversing the effects or “detransitioning” is next to impossible, Newgent told The Epoch Times, because of the cost, the strain on a person’s body, and the limits of medical science.
Even though the Idaho bill can apply to many situations unrelated to transgenderism, Newgent hopes for similar laws nationwide. These measures would benefit many therapists who want to buck the “gender-affirming care” trend but fear reprisals, Newgent said.
“Good for her, standing up,” Newgent said, referring to McFarland. “Being loving, being caring to anybody is telling the truth, with love and kindness on the other side.”
Tennessee passed a similar conscientious-therapist law in 2016; McFarland has discussed the Idaho bill with lawmakers from several other states.
Lawmaker Gives Rationale
Young told The Epoch Times that she drafted the bill after McFarland alerted her about the predicaments that therapists may face.
“This general issue of protecting freedom of conscience is something that has always been a concern to me,” Young said.
That’s why McFarland’s points resonated with her.
In late 2022, McFarland contacted Young and “expressed her concerns about the potential of actually being put in a situation where she could be disciplined or lose her license,” Young said, “because she sees this trend toward pressuring counselors to provide care that is in conflict with some of those sincerely held beliefs.”
She said her bill acknowledges that a counselor’s first obligation is to “take care of somebody that’s in imminent danger of losing their life or causing the loss of someone else’s life.”
Then, if a client wants to be counseled “regarding specific goals, outcomes, or behaviors” that conflict with a therapist’s personal beliefs or professional opinion, the state is “not going to strong-arm” the counselor to proceed in that manner, she said. Instead, the counselor will help the client find another therapist.
“And then they are relieved of any further professional obligations to that individual. And they can’t be sued. They can’t be prosecuted. They can’t have their license called into question,” Young said.
She believes that lawmakers’ primary purpose should be to define people’s fundamental rights and provide protection for those.
“Our goal is not to tell everybody what to do all the time,” she said.
The purpose of the bill, she said, is to ensure “mutual respect and conscience protections for counselors and therapists,” and she thinks it “strikes the right balance” among all concerned.
‘Informed Choice’ Paramount
There’s another existing issue: Informed consent is lacking. The Idaho bill would help remedy that in two ways, McFarland said.
Firstly, by helping parents and clients to know if they have chosen the right therapist for them, and secondly, by allowing open discussion of the risks and benefits associated with the “gender-affirming” model of care.
“They have the right to make an informed choice” about who they want as their therapist, McFarland said.
“Let’s be honest here. Everybody brings their values to whatever they do. We need to stop pretending that people don’t have values,” she said. “And the goal should be that we are honest.”
McFarland’s website describes her as a “Christian wife, grandmother, teacher and therapist,” making her core values clear to prospective clients, she said.
Years ago, professional guidelines called upon counselors to disclose relevant differences of opinion to clients, McFarland said.
That has since changed. Now, counselors are muzzled about their beliefs, particularly concerns about the sexualization of children and the serious harm that can come from transgenderism, she said.
For a counselor to be considered “multi-culturally competent,” he or she must embrace the “gender-affirming” approach, McFarland said. Therefore, therapists face professional risks if they promote a therapy that doesn’t “affirm” a child’s transgender stance.
‘Path of Harm’
Furthermore, Idaho law prohibits counselors from sharing information with parents of minor clients who are aged 14 or older.
Thus, parents of these youths may be kept entirely in the dark about their child’s gender confusion or other potentially life-altering circumstances. Similar confidentiality laws are in effect in other states, although the age limits vary.
Besides being distressing to parents, this situation creates a potential legal peril for counselors, McFarland said.
“How would you feel as a parent if you find out that you sent your kid to a therapist and they’re helping that kid connect to the same people that put on a ‘drag kids on stage’ event?” McFarland asked.
This is a very real possibility, she said, because therapists are being told they need to connect transgender-identifying children with “people of their culture.”
“That’s what they’re asking me to do,” McFarland said. “And those are not neutral acts. Those are putting kids on a path of harm.”
Therapists who send children on a route that leads to gender transition “may not realize the liabilities they have, because parents’ lawsuits are coming,” she said. “That’s what’s happened in England.”
That nation had been a frontrunner in the “gender-affirming care” movement. But in recent months, England and other European countries have been putting on the brakes after rising complaints from “detransitioners” who wish they had never used hormones or surgeries to alter their appearance.
In August 2022, news broke that 1,000 families were suing the Gender Identity Development Service at London’s Tavistock Centre. The Times of London quoted an attorney alleging that professionals there got children “started on a treatment pathway that was not right for them.”
Amid such criticisms, England’s National Health Service ordered the Tavistock clinic to close by spring 2023.
Many people think that “socially transitioning” a child—allowing the child to experiment with a new name, cross-sex identity, clothing, and hairstyles—is harmless experimentation.
But McFarland said, “That’s a gate that we’re opening up. And once they start to socially transition and get into that, research shows they’re going to continue and go on with these harmful puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.”
Worse yet, some of these medications can cause depression, an additional struggle for a vulnerable child who may already suffer from underlying mental and emotional issues.
After hormones, the next step could be costly body-altering surgeries, some of which have high complication rates.
“Gender-affirming” proponents say these measures are “life-saving” because gender-questioning youths are at higher risk of suicide.
However, an oft-cited 30-year Swedish study showed that transgender adults were 19 times more likely to kill themselves despite undergoing sex-change procedures.
Newgent, the anti-transitioning activist, is aware of very few people who believe the surgeries improved their long-term quality of life. Newgent has faced repeated infections and other complications from the surgeries.
Instead of facing a similar fate, children should be allowed to work through their gender questioning and any underlying issues, Newgent said. Both McFarland and Newgent point out that several studies show that large percentages of youths “desist” their claim of transgenderism if they don’t begin the transition process.
Trends Fueled Gender Ideology
As the decades have passed, McFarland has observed societal trends adversely affecting girls.
Images on social media and TV glorify “unrealistic perfection and unrealistic fitness,” she said.
“Then I saw the culture send big messages about androgyny … so you look at kids, and they’re all in T-shirts and jeans, and sometimes you can’t tell if they’re girls or boys,” she said, noting that the trend turned toward “hating your body and disassociating from your body.”
“Now we’re going to mutilate your body and change it to be some other thing that it can never possibly be.”
Despite looking like a man, Newgent declared, “I will never be a man,” in the 2022 Daily Wire documentary “What is a Woman?”, which explored gender ideology.
That statement gained international publicity for Newgent, who applauds McFarland’s efforts.
McFarland said her concerns began when she was trained on how to use a new assessment form.
“I just had a very bad feeling about it,” she said.
McFarland thinks parents would be shocked to know that many therapists use that same form, which asks more than 100 questions, several of which probe gender identity and sexuality for children from birth to age 18.
Part of the assessment asks whether the child’s parents support a child’s desire for “transitioning” and the child’s “new culture.” If not, “it literally says they’re being discriminatory, and they’re ‘oppressing’ their child,” McFarland said.
Further, the same remarks can be said about a therapist who doesn’t abet the child’s desire to transition, McFarland said, which could be personally and professionally harmful for the therapist.
Her disquiet over the questionnaire caused her to dig for information. “I just kept researching, researching,” she said, “and I just got darker, darker, deeper, deeper, deeper into that iceberg of harm of children.”
The process has been painful for her. But she can’t ignore the facts she found. That’s why she felt compelled to act. That’s how McFarland turned into a reluctant activist.
“It’s not something I feel brave about,” she said. “I felt like my heart is just broken, watching this happen to children and to parents—and they don’t even know what they’re getting into.”
Navigating a ‘Minefield’
But help is available for parents and children who seek it, McFarland said.
Of particular note, she said, is a free booklet, “Navigating the Transgender Landscape—School Resource Guide,” published by the Child & Parental Rights Campaign.
“I can’t say enough about this resource,” McFarland said.
Although the guide is intended for school administrators, the group says that “parents will also benefit from the balanced approach to this complicated phenomenon.”
McFarland said the guide provides “social, medical, and legal information to develop sound policies.”
“It’s a plan that protects all students and protects parents’ rights,” she said. “With this resource, you will be prepared to work with others and draw that line in the sand that we need to protect our kids and our freedoms.”
As parents, McFarland and her husband, Michael, have tackled challenges ranging from learning disabilities to depression and same-sex attraction. These life experiences prepared her well for her role as a counselor.
McFarland likes to joke that these hurdles have earned her an honorary doctorate from “The School of Hard Knocks.”
In reality, McFarland holds a Master of Science degree in mental health counseling from Capella University. She’s also a university instructor who “teaches parenting to students all over the world,” her website says.
McFarland said she tries hard to help girls see that womanhood is something special, something to be celebrated.
“Toxic cultural messages make growing up more like a ‘minefield’ than the hopeful journey it should be,” she says on her website. “That’s why I developed Healthy Transitions for Girls, a curriculum to help girls ages 8 to 14 to develop a positive body image.”
Under the heading “Helping Girls Is My Passion,” McFarland is pictured on her website with five young ladies—some of her daughters and granddaughters—at a 2018 wedding. They’re all smiles, dressed in pastels and floral prints.
To her, that picture radiates love, togetherness, and the unparalleled joy of sisterhood—a feeling that could forge positive changes in the lives of the young girls she counsels.
She just wants to share it freely.