The TV host came under fire for suggesting parents should wait until a child's "formative years" before making declarations about their gender
Mario Lopez is facing backlash over comments he made in a recent interview that suggested it was “dangerous” for parents of children as young as 3 years old to definitively label their kids transgender.
The incoming Access Hollywood co-host appeared on The Candace Owens Show in June, where the conservative commentator brought up “this new trend where celebrities are coming out … and saying that their child is picking their gender.”
In response, Lopez told Owens he, too, was struggling to understand the mentality, and was “kind of blown away.”
“Look, I’m never one to tell anyone how to parent their kids, obviously, and I think if you come from a place of love, you really can’t go wrong,” he said. “But at the same time, my God, if you’re 3 years old and you’re saying you’re feeling a certain way, or you think you’re a boy or a girl or whatever the case may be, I just think it’s dangerous as a parent to make that determination then — ‘Okay, well then you’re going to be a boy or a girl,’ whatever the case may be. It’s sort of alarming and my gosh, I just think about the repercussions later on.”
Continuing, Owens said that she was a tomboy as a child but grew out of the phase, which supported her belief that no one was able to make decisions about “sexuality” at the age of 3. As Owens conflated sexuality, which relates to sexual orientation, with the entirely separate gender identity, Lopez followed suit, responding, “When you’re a kid … You don’t know anything about sexuality, you’re just a kid.”
The former Saved by the Bell star continued, encouraging parents of young children to “be the adult in the situation” and wait until the child’s “formative years” to have discussions and make declarations regarding gender.
“I personally think it’s just way too young to start making these… I know other parents who have certain parenting styles that I necessarily don’t agree with, but I do know they’re good people and they’re coming from a good place,” he said.
In a statement to PEOPLE on Wednesday, Lopez apologized for his remarks.
“The comments I made were ignorant and insensitive, and I now have a deeper understanding of how hurtful they were,” he said. “I have been and always will be an ardent supporter of the LGBTQ community, and I am going to use this opportunity to better educate myself. Moving forward I will be more informed and thoughtful.”
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According to Dr. Johanna Olson, assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, there’s really no clear consensus as to what the right age to make these determinations is, as some children may just exhibit gender nonconforming behaviors before puberty and should not be labeled transgender.
“The truth is that we don’t really know whether that child who is gender non-conforming in childhood is going to go on to have a trans identity in adolescence or adulthood,” she told the Human Rights Campaign. “What we do know is that by the time kids reach adolescence, if they have a gender identity that is different from their sex assigned at birth, that it is very likely that they will continue on to have that gender identity.”
Though Lopez’s interview with Owens was filmed in June, it resurfaced this week, prompting criticism from those who took particular issue with his use of the word “dangerous” in regards to parents’ support of their transgender children.
“Medical and psychological experts, and parents of children who are transgender, have long discredited the ideas that Mario Lopez shared last month,” GLAAD told PEOPLE in a statement. “The real ‘dangerous action’ is when someone with a public platform uses bad science to speak against a marginalized and vulnerable group of children. We spoke with Extra and it is clear that the showrunners do not support or share his view. They will address this issue on the show tonight. Lopez clearly needs a primer on trans issues. We reached out to his team to see if and how he will correct the record.”
Tweeted Queer Eye star Karamo Brown, “I’m disappointed to read [Lopez’s] comments about parents who support their child’s openness about their gender identity. As a social worker I am trained to identify abuse or neglect of a child. Healthy & safe dialogue w/ kids is neither abusive, neglectful or ‘dangerous.'”
“I don’t think @MarioLopezExtra should be ‘canceled,'” he continued. “But I do believe he should be given the opportunity to learn why his comments are harmful to trans youth and their parents. Mario, I’m ready to talk when you are.”
Wade Davis II, a former NFL star turned activist, also encouraged Lopez to educate himself on the difference between sexuality and gender.
“#MarioLopez should read more — being #Trans is about IDENTITY not sex,” he tweeted. “And trans folks understand that they are being treated differently from how they identity btw the ages of 3 & 5 & adults force gender on kids from birth. @MarioLopezExtra when all else fails — READ.”
Added songwriter Holly Figueroa O’Reilly, “Of our 5 kids, 2 are queer. They both came out in their early teens but we knew who they were way, way before then. Parents can tell the different [sic] between a 3 year old who pretends to be another gender for fun and one who feels they are living in the wrong body. STFU Mario Lopez.”
Others, like writer and transgender activist Parker Molloy, acknowledged that Lopez likely had no ill intentions, but needed to educate himself.
“I don’t think Mario Lopez meant any harm in his comments, by the way,” she tweeted. “I do think it speaks to a lot of the misinformation out there about trans kids, however. People and groups spread misinformation that gets regurgitated as fact, leading people to draw false conclusions.”
“Owens, on the other hand, is one of the people willingly pushing misinformation,” she continued. “She’s terrible. I hope Lopez reflects on this a bit, maybe meets with a trans kid or two to better understand where they’re coming from.”
Owens, 30, is a rising star in the conservative world and previously served as communications director for the conservative student group Turning Point USA before stepping down in May. Her departure followed an incident in front of the House Judiciary Committee, in which Rep. Ted Lieu played a clip of comments she made about Adolf Hitler during a hearing on hate crimes and white nationalism. Owens, who was also in attendance, later said her remarks were misconstrued.
Owens has also made headlines for Blexit, her campaign that encourages African-Americans and other minorities to leave the Democratic party.
Kanye West was briefly linked to Blexit after he apparently sold T-shirts and hats with the campaign logo, though he later distanced himself, tweeting that he had only introduced Owens to the person who created the logo.
“I never wanted any associated with Blexit. I have nothing to do with it,” he added.
Owens has even drawn praise from President Donald Trump, who tweeted in May 2018, “Candace Owens of Turning Point USA is having a big impact on politics in our Country. She represents an ever expanding group of very smart ‘thinkers,’ and it is wonderful to watch and hear the dialogue going on…so good for our Country!”