Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University (and former director of the school’s Department of Psychiatry as well as the psychiatrist-in-chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital), has positioned himself as a go-to source for right-wing Christian organizations when it comes to anti-transgender campaigns. His title and affiliation with a reputable university has been used to bolster the Christian Right’s argument—that biological sex is binary and immutable (thus erasing intersex and transgender realities)—and provide a pathway for their ideologies, cloaked in scientific disguise, to reach the secular and political mainstream. Paul McHugh’s recommendations around transgender healthcare run counter to those made by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.
As PRA researcher Cole Parke noted in their October 2016 Public Eye article on the anti-trans strategy of the Christian Right, McHugh has actively worked against the medical treatment of trans people since the 1970s. In an essay published in The American Scholar, McHugh indicates that part of his incentive for taking over Johns Hopkins’ psychiatry department was to shut down the institution’s Gender Identity Clinic, which had been at the forefront of transgender medicine since 1966.
“It was part of my intention, when I arrived in Baltimore in 1975, to help end it,” he wrote. In 1979, he succeeded.
McHugh has continued to be a prominent voice for anti-trans policies and practices. When the Family Research Council (FRC) laid out its five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement” in 2015, they included statements made by Paul McHugh to support their argument against providing trans people with gender-affirming healthcare, access to gender transition procedures (often understood to be life-saving for transgender people), legal recognition, protection from discrimination, and the right to serve in the military.
McHugh also has a platform as member of the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), a small right-wing breakaway group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002 and was later called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012. McHugh co-authored an ACP position statement last year (updated most recently in January 2017) called “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” It urges “healthcare professionals, educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex.”
While McHugh’s work is cited as fact by the Christian Right, his own sources are questionable. Among McHugh’s primary sources for the ACP position paper is Sheila Jeffreys, a feminist scholar with no medical background. She is also notably among a small group of highly controversial anti-trans academics and activists described by their critics as “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs). The collusion between the Christian Right and anti-trans feminists demonstrates that anti-trans medical professionals such as McHugh draw from any material that furthers their political agenda, regardless of its credibility.
McHugh’s work has continued to be deployed as factual evidence on both the local and state levels in opposition to trans-affirming legislation. He even admitted that his 2016 non-peer-reviewed report on sexuality and gender—published in The New Atlantis, a right-wing journal—was merely an “opinion piece.”
The Human Rights Campaign recently drilled down on this failure to engage in rigorous peer review as part of a new website called “McHugh Exposed,” launched just ahead of the Earth Day “March for Science” in April 2017. This comes on the heels of McHugh jointly filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Virginia trans student Gavin Grimm in his case regarding access to the restroom appropriate to his gender identity. In March 2017, the Supreme Court reversed its decision to hear the case, and vacated a lower court’s ruling in favor of Grimm. How Title IX protections extend to trans students remains open to interpretation.
McHugh’s arguments are in direct opposition to that of the 66,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics, which put out a statement in March 2017 stating that “policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being….Transgender children should be supported, nurtured and cared for, whether in their homes, in their schools or through policies enacted at the state and federal levels.”
Since McHugh’s New Atlantis report was published last fall, almost 700 members of the Johns Hopkins medical community—including individuals from the university’s schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health—have publicly called on Johns Hopkins to disavow what they call his “False LGBT Reports.”
The petition states that McHugh not only fails to uphold Johns Hopkins’ values of justice and scientific rigor, but also that he “has been on a misguided crusade against LGBT patients and communities,” which is “causing significant harm to LGBT communities within Hopkins and beyond.”
The Christian Right frequently calls upon scientists and medical professionals on their roster to provide expert witness in the fight against LGBTQ and reproductive justice. Paul McHugh is a prominent one, with over four decades of practice advocating against trans-affirming healthcare.