Kenneth Zucker

This content was last updated Nov. 15, 2023, 10:14 p.m. UTC

Kenneth Zucker is an American psychologist and the Editor-in-Chief of the Archives of Sexual Behavior (ASB), a sexology journal published by the International Academy of Sex Research (IASR).

Zucker is best known for his work at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), where he was the functional lead of CAMH’s Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), the largest gender identity service in Canada. There Zucker took a non-affirming approach to gender dysphoria and gender nonconformity by insisting that children conform to the standards of play and dress that society expects of their assigned gender at birth. This would typically include, for example, throwing away all of a dysphoric child’s gender-nonconforming toys.

If you have a kid who has not reached a choice point and who can be made to be a happy or well-adjusted gay or lesbian I think it’s self-evident that from a medical standpoint, it’s better if they go the gay or lesbian route than the transsexual route.

Zucker, National Post, 21 February 2015

Education and Work

Zucker earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in 1972, his Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University in 1975, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Developmental Psychology from the University of Toronto in 1982.

Zucker taught classes under the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto between 1978 and 1999, and lectured there in the 2000s and 2010s. He has also worked as a status only Assistant and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto since 1986, coauthored the pop psychology book Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents in 1995, and published multiple papers throughout his career.

Work at CAMH’s GIC

Starting in 1981, Zucker worked at CAMH’s GIC as clinical lead. There, he practiced a non-affirming approach to treating adolescent gender dysphoria, described by some critics as comparable to conversion therapy for homosexual youth. Zucker’s methods included restricting dysphoric kids’ friendships to other children of the same sex and prohibiting play with “girlish” toys.

CAMH was the source of numerous patient complaints, with one former patient describing being repeatedly called by her old name, breaking down crying in harsh interviews, and an overall approach she described as “completely lacking in empathy.”

In response to critiques of Zucker’s work, CAMH ordered an external review of its GIC in February of 2015. In June of that year, the Ontario Provincial Parliament passed legislation that outlawed conversion therapy practices for minors. CAMH expressed that they unequivocally supported this measure. In December of 2015, after the conclusion of their external review, CAMH announced that they would be shuttering GIC and firing Zucker. Though the independent reviewers did not explicitly state that Zucker’s methods were conversion therapy, they wrote that they “cannot state that the clinic does not practice reparative approaches (if not outright therapies) with respect to influencing gender identity development.” CAMH released a summary of the review’s conclusions in which they described the GIC under Zucker as “out of step with current clinical practices.”

Following his dismissal and the GIC’s closure, Zucker spoke out against accusations of his performing conversion therapy on transgender youth. After litigating against his former employers in 2016, CAMH publicly issued an apology to Zucker for errors in the external review process, and for releasing the review to the public before allowing him to read and comment on it. Zucker also received a settlement payment of $500,000 for damages and legal fees.

Despite their capitulation to Zucker’s suit, CAMH expressed that they stood by their 2015 decision to shutter the GIC for practicing outdated treatment methods. They have since reopened the GIC and resumed services for patients 17 and over, reporting a reduction in wait times from 30 months under Zucker to nine months.

Some of the evidence on CAMH seems to be degrading due to the passage of time. A claim that 90 percent of trans people who applied to transition at CAMH was referenced in multiple places on the web, but the TDL team was unable to locate a high quality source for this claim, which may date back to news reports from the 1980s. If you know of such a source, please send it to us using our suggestion form.

Editor-in-Chief for ASB

Archives of Sexual Behavior was founded in 1971 by Richard Green, author of The Sissy Boy Syndrome and the Development of Homosexuality. Zucker assumed editorial duties for the journal in 2001, and has published a number of controversial papers therein.

In 2001, Zucker helped publish a deeply controversial paper by Robert Spitzer about “ex-gay” individuals who believed that they were “cured” of homosexual urges. Spitzer’s paper was published without peer review, on the condition that commentary from other professionals could be published alongside it, most of which derided the paper for its poor methodology. Some commentary suggested that the choice to publish the paper was immoral. Spitzer later retracted the paper entirely in 2012.

In 2023, Zucker helped publish seeking to support the contested theory of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) by Dr. J. Michael Bailey and Suzanna Diaz. The paper was a survey of parents who visited the website Parents of ROGD Kids and it found that parents who visited this website believe their children have characteristics associated with ROGD. (ROGD, is  a theory originally developed on websites for unsupportive parents of transgender children, and is currently unsupported by any direct evidence. It posits that transgender youth identify as transgender explicitly because of “social contagion” from their transgender peers, met in person or on social media platforms, and likens being transgender to having an infectious disease.)

After the paper’s publication, an open letter was written to the IASR and Archives of Sexual Behavior with one hundred signatories and the support of multiple LGBTQ+ organizations expressing dissatisfaction with Kenneth Zucker’s work as Editor-in-Chief. The signatories stated that they would not submit work to the journal, act as peer reviewers, or serve in any editorial capacity until Zucker was "replaced with an editor who has a demonstrated record of integrity on LGBTQ+ matters, and, especially, trans matters."

The paper was retracted in May of 2023 because the authors did not receive IRB approval before publishing and had not provided evidence that consent was obtained from the participants.

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