Nearly 700 members of the Johns Hopkins community have formally called for the Baltimore-based university and health system to distance themselves from “a misguided, misinformed attack on LGBT communities.”
In August, Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor Paul McHugh and biostatistician Lawrence Mayer published a 116-page “special report” on gender and sexual orientation in The New Atlantis, a conservative bioethics magazine. The report made a number of claims that have long been rejected by gender and sexuality researchers. It falsely implies that children are “encouraged to become transgender” and that young transgender children undergo medical interventions as part of affirming their gender identities. In addition, it suggests that:
- Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer is caused by childhood sexual abuse
- LGBTQ people have inherent psychological difficulties
- Sexual orientation is a choice and can be changed
Gender and sexuality researchers, including some of those cited in the report, have called out its serious flaws. Among them is distinguished geneticist and scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, Dean Hamer. Hamer, whose career has included key publications on the relationship between genes and sexual orientation, says McHugh and Mayer “twisted and misinterpreted” legitimate research to their own ends. Those ends may include the $400-an-hour fee Mayer collected for defending North Carolina’s deeply discriminatory HB2 law in a federal civil rights lawsuit.
While the report’s falsehoods attack the entire LGBTQ community, McHugh’s history reflects particular animus toward transgender people, collaborating with an organization designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center to attack trans kids and penning opinion articles mocking people who transition as “caricatures,” “counterfeits,” “impersonators,” “confused” and “mad.”
Because McHugh and Mayer lack research experience on gender and sexuality, and since the report was published in a magazine rather than a peer-reviewed scientific journal, it would normally be ignored beyond the authors’ fringe anti-LGBTQ circles. However, McHugh and Mayer have drawn on the Johns Hopkins name to persuade readers to take them seriously, leading numerous reporters to describe the article as a “Johns Hopkins study.”
When scholars try to brand unscientific opinions in this way, universities and hospitals often clarify that individual faculty members’ opinions do not represent them. In 2014, in response to a deeply flawed study used to attack LGBTQ families, the University of Texas at Austin announced that the author’s “opinions are his own” and “do not reflect the views of the university.” Johns Hopkins Medicine has a similar history: It responded to a 2013 article questioning the effectiveness of flu shots, stating that it “in no way endorses” the findings and detailing its own commitment to vaccination. These statements pose no threat to academic freedom. They clarify the record without limiting researchers’ ability to promote their work.
Johns Hopkins students, faculty, staff and alumni are calling on their university and hospital to issue a similar statement about the New Atlantis article. Signatories on a formal petition coordinated by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine alumnus, physician and researcher, Carl Streed, Jr., include 264 Hopkins alumni, 200 current students, 30 faculty members, and more than 100 staff, medical interns, medical residents and fellows. In addition, last week, three Hopkins professors published a Baltimore Sun op-ed raising questions about the New Atlantis report’s credibility and concerns that it “could further stigmatize and harm the health of LGBTQ communities."
As NBC OUT reported last month, HRC has been in communication with Johns Hopkins over the need for an official statement about McHugh and Mayer’s activities. Recently, HRC met with leadership at Johns Hopkins to express the urgency of this issue and the continued need for action. This year, for the first time, HRC Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index will rate hospitals with a numerical score and will consider whether hospitals and health systems’ practices reflect “responsible citizenship.” If Hopkins’ leadership ignores their community’s call to correct the record—clarifying that McHugh and Mayer’s opinions do not represent it, and that its healthcare services provided reflect the scientific consensus on LGBTQ health and well-being—its Healthcare Equality Index score will be reduced substantially. It is clear that many people at Hopkins are eager to demonstrate their commitment to the health and safety of the LGBTQ community, but this will require stating clearly to transgender patients and others that McHugh’s and Mayer’s opinions are not the views of Johns Hopkins University and Hospital.