Story at a glance

  • Amazon removed the book “When Harry Became Sally” from its online shelves, prompting criticisms of censorship.
  • The e-commerce giant said content deemed as hate speech is one of the types that will not be sold on their platforms.

In a March 11 letter sent to three Republican senators, tech behemoth Amazon said it would no longer sell books that feature an LGBTQ+ identity as a form of mental illness.

First reported by The Wall Street Journal, the letter was addressed to Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), in response to an earlier letter from the senators dated Feb. 24.

The first letter sent to Amazon asked why a book titled “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” was no longer available on the e-commerce store, or on adjacent platforms like Amazon Kindle and Audio. 

Amazon Vice President for Public Policy Brian Huseman responded to the senators’ question, writing that Amazon’s bookselling arm reserves the right to not sell certain content deemed offensive or prejudiced.

“We carefully consider the content we make available in our stores, and we review our approach regularly. ... we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” the letter reads.

Up until 1973, homosexuality and other sexual identities had been formally regarded as a mental illness by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Before the American Psychiatric Association made a statement in support of gay and lesbian rights, questions about sexual and gender identity were often conflated with mental illness, a practice consistently discredited. 

The company has formal content guidelines for books it hosts on its platforms available for download or sale, which prohibit illegal or infringing content, offensive content and poor customer experiences.

Content guidelines state that the company doesn’t sell content they deem “is hate speech, promotes the abuse or sexual exploitation of children, contains pornography, glorifies rape or pedophilia, advocates terrorism, or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive.”

Huseman continued to say that since Amazon authorizes self-publishing by authors on its Kindle Direct Publishing platform, it supports diverse content and voices, and offers customers a variety of titles available related to both liberal and conservative content and opinions.

This includes titles and content some customers might deem “objectionable.”

The author of “When Harry Became Sally,” Ryan T. Anderson, issued several tweets condemning the deplatforming of his book, writing that Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos have stopped selling his book based on a series of “falsehoods” previously made against Anderson several years ago. 

Amazon’s move comes at a time when Big Tech is facing backlash and criticism over its content curation, with some saying its deplatforming of individuals and groups is censorship and a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee to free speech.

The senators reportedly said in the first letter that Amazon’s decision to revoke “When Harry Became Sally” represents a message “to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms,” per the Journal.

Published on Mar 12, 2021