Psychiatrist Paul McHugh has described transgender people as caricatures, counterfeits, impersonators, confused and mad. Doctor and statistician Lawrence Mayer served as a $400-per-hour expert witness for North Carolina governor Pat McRory’s defense of HB2. Now, the pair have teamed up to promote their anti-LGBTQ views in The New Atlantis, a publication its editor says is a platform for a “conservative way of thinking about…modern science and technology.”
McHugh and Mayer take different tones in their efforts to marginalize the LGBTQ community. McHugh openly mocks transgender people, while Mayer couches his opinions in concern for “suffering” LGBTQ youth and adults. But the pair have the same strategy: using scientific credentials to feign expertise on gender and sexual orientation.
Neither McHugh nor Mayer has conducted original research on LGBTQ people. Neither has ever written about sexual orientation or gender identity in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Other than a Wall Street Journal op-ed, McHugh’s writings on trans people are limited to religious and political media: First Things, a journal of “religion and public life,” and Public Discourse, a social-conservative outlet. McHugh sometimes says “we” when describing a colleague’s research on trans women. But, in reality, he shut that program down soon after taking control of the department—nearly four decades ago.
While the New Atlantis article mostly describes legitimate research, the claims it makes based on that research are not backed by experts in the field. The authors make much of elevated depression and suicide rates among LGBTQ people—a key issue for LGBTQ advocates—and acknowledge the substantial research showing that anti-LGBTQ stigma plays a crucial role. While these admissions may make the article seem neutral, readers should not overlook the lack of evidence backing key claims—like the notion that ending stigma “is unlikely to eliminate all of the disparities in mental health status” or the insinuation that “children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior” are “encouraged to become transgender.” In reality, experts who support gender-affirming care are adamant that “gender-atypical thoughts and behavior” don’t mean a child is trans—and that any decisions should follow the child’s lead, without pressure from adults.
Despite their efforts to appear neutral, McHugh and Mayer are far outside the medical and scientific mainstream. Earlier this month, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics—which represents 64,000 pediatricians across the United States—penned a heartfelt letter on the importance of supporting transgender children. Citing a recent study in the flagship journal Pediatrics, Dr. Benard Dreyer wrote that “there appears to be no harm — and possible benefit — from…parent-supported early social transitions.”
As experts have come to consensus on points like the fact that therapy can’t change sexual orientation and that gender transition is a crucial step towards well-being for many trans people, anti-LGBTQ advocates have increasingly resorted to dishonest spins of valid studies. The authors they cite often tell a very different story. In 2006, the recognized hate group with which McHugh is affiliated sent an anti-LGBTQ letter to school superintendents across the country. A journalist who interviewed several researchers cited was told that the letter’s descriptions were “misleading and incorrect.” One physician was certain the group “didn’t even read” his research.
Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is an absolute baseline for scientific credibility. But The New Atlantis is a conservative ethics and policy magazine, not a peer-reviewed scientific journal. McHugh and Meyer knew that peer reviewers would have challenged their biased interpretations and forced them to clarify their misleading statements.
In his Pediatrics piece, Dr. Dreyer urged his colleagues that “as physicians, especially pediatricians, we not be our patients’ first bully.” Evidently, neither Dr. McHugh nor Dr. Meyer got the memo.
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