Why LGBTQ People Should Care About Science

by Ashland Johnson

Today, millions of people across the country will participate in the March for Science.

Today, millions of people across the country will participate in the March for Science.

Organizers characterize the gathering as a “celebration of science” that’s not only about scientists and politicians, but also “the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.”

While science helps build support for and advance understanding of LGBTQ people, junk science remains a huge concern.

For example, 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, the magazine of a conservative think tank. 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.

While the report’s falsehoods attack the entire LGBTQ community, McHugh’s history reflects particular animus toward transgender people. He’s collaborated with an organization designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center to attack trans kids, and penned opinion articles mocking people who transition as “caricatures,” “counterfeits,” “impersonators,” “confused” and “mad.”

Yesterday, HRC launched McHugh Exposed, a website that pulls back the curtain on the McHugh, the go-to ‘expert’ for anti-equality extremists. The resource includes a detailed timeline of how McHugh’s hateful and damaging essays have been used to target and attack LGBTQ people and a new video featuring renowned LGBTQ health expert, Dr. Tonia Poteat. It can be found at www.McHughExposed.org.

Science isn’t just about what you learned about in elementary or high school in chemistry, physics or biology classes. Scientific fields including psychology, sociology and epidemiology have helped us understand how people’s identities shape their lives. Importantly, they have exposed disparities that emerge when social inequality leads to increased risks for poor health outcomes, and other serious issues including violence and persistent poverty.

Science helps us understand how to reduce these troubling health disparities through positive laws and policies, as well as healthcare guidelines and community programs.

This insight science and research provides is particularly crucial to LGBTQ people. There are hundred of scientific studies each year examining the lives of LGBTQ people, giving us a deeper look into how to support LGBTQ youth, for example, and the effects of anti-LGBTQ laws and so much more.

In the past two years alone, scientific research has found:

  • There’s a huge deficit in LGBTQ-inclusive sex education begin offered in schools  across America. (CDC)
  • U.S. adults are more likely than ever to identify as bisexual. (CDC)
  • It is virtually impossible for a person living with HIV and an undetectable viral load to pass the virus onto someone else. (New England Journal of Medicine).
  • Many LGBTQ youth aren’t getting the health information they need. (Journal of Adolescent Health)
  • Transgender kids who transition with their families’ support have similar mental health to their non-transgender peers. (Pediatrics)
  • A 10-minute conversation with a transgender person can lead to a lasting increase in support for transgender people. (Science)
  • One in three transgender adults has avoided eating or drinking for fear of problems accessing a restroom consistent with their gender identity. (National Center for Transgender Equality)
  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), the once-daily pill regimen to prevent HIV, is as safe to take as aspirin. (Open Forum Infectious Diseases)
  • PrEP can work for the communities that need it most, including young, Black gay and bisexual men. (HIV Prevention Trials Network)
  • LGB teens are far more likely to experience violence and bullying, and attempt suicide, than their non-LGB peers. (CDC)
  • LGB adults are more likely than others to experience mental illness or a substance use disorder, but also somewhat more likely to get the treatment they need. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • Gender-affirming medical care appears to broadly and markedly improve mental health for transgender people. (Transgender Health)
  • Teen suicide attempts dropped in states that approved marriage equality before nationwide marriage equality became the law of the land. (JAMA Pediatrics)

Given the significant role science plays in protecting the well-being of LGBTQ people and advancing LGBTQ equality, today’s March for Science is not only a march to celebrate science; it’s a march for social justice, equality and progress.

As such, HRC will continue to support scientists, academics, researchers, and clinicians in their efforts to promote and protect the value of fact-based science. And we will continue to call out those who pedal junk science to undermine our health, dignity and rights.