A major new report, published today in the journal The New Atlantis, challenges the leading narratives that have been pushed in New Zealand regarding sexual orientation and gender identity – messages which are being pushed in our schools and our media in NZ.
Much of the research has been mentioned in our 2015 report Boys Girls Other: Making Sense of the Confusing New World of Gender Identity
Here is a brief summary of this latest report prepared by Dr Ryan Anderson who was a speaker at our conference last year.
Co-authored by two of the nation’s leading scholars on mental health and sexuality, the 143-page report released today discusses over 200 peer-reviewed studies in the biological, psychological, and social sciences, painstakingly documenting what scientific research shows and does not show about sexuality and gender.
The major takeaway, as the editor of the journal explains, is that “some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence.”
Here are four of the report’s most important conclusions:
- The belief that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property—that people are ‘born that way’—is not supported by scientific evidence.
- Likewise, the belief that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex—so that a person might be a ‘man trapped in a woman’s body’ or ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’—is not supported by scientific evidence.
- Only a minority of children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood. There is no evidence that all such children should be encouraged to become transgender, much less subjected to hormone treatments or surgery.
- Non-heterosexual and transgender people have higher rates of mental health problems (anxiety, depression, suicide), as well as behavioral and social problems (substance abuse, intimate partner violence), than the general population. Discrimination alone does not account for the entire disparity.
The report, “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” is co-authored by Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh. Mayer is a scholar-in-residence in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and a professor of statistics and biostatistics at Arizona State University. McHugh, whom the editor of The New Atlantis describes as “arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century,” is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was for 25 years the psychiatrist-in-chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was during his tenure as psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins that he put an end to sex reassignment surgery there, after a study launched at Hopkins revealed that it didn’t have the benefits for which doctors and patients had long hoped.
One of the consistent themes of the report is that science does not support the claim that “gender identity” is a fixed property independent of biological sex, but rather that a combination of biological, environmental, and experiential factors likely shape how individuals experience and express themselves when it comes to sex and gender.
The report reviews rigorous research showing that “only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.” Policymakers should be concerned with how misguided school policies (such as the InsideOut programme shown right) might encourage students to identify as girls when they are boys, and vice versa, and might result in prolonged difficulties. As the report notes, “There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.”
They continue: “We are concerned by the increasing tendency toward encouraging children with gender identity issues to transition to their preferred gender through medical and then surgical procedures.” But as they note, “There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents.”
The report also highlights that people who identify as LGBT face higher risks of adverse physical and mental health outcomes, such as “depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and most alarmingly, suicide.”
What accounts for these tragic outcomes? Mayer and McHugh investigate the leading theory—the “social stress model”—which proposes that “stressors like stigma and prejudice account for much of the additional suffering observed in these subpopulations.” But they argue that the evidence suggests that this theory “does not seem to offer a complete explanation for the disparities in the outcomes.” It appears that social stigma and stress alone cannot account for the poor physical and mental health outcomes that LGBT-identified people face.
Mayer and McHugh observe that much about sexuality and gender remains unknown. They call for honest, rigorous, and dispassionate research to help better inform public discourse and, more importantly, sound medical practice.
As Mayer and McHugh note, “Everyone—scientists and physicians, parents and teachers, lawmakers and activists—deserves access to accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Please take the time to read this important report – based on science and medicine, not political ideology and agendas.
Dr. Mayer, who is a scholar in residence in the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a professor of statistics and biostatistics at Arizona State University, wrote in the preface that in writing the report he had “consulted a number of individuals who asked that I not thank them by name.” He explained, “Some feared an angry response from the more militant elements of the LGBT community; others feared an angry response from the more strident elements of religiously conservative communities.”
Mayer also stated, “I strongly support equality and oppose discrimination for the LGBT community, and I have testified on their behalf as a statistical expert.” He then dedicated his work on the report, “first, to the LGBT community, which bears a disproportionate rate of mental health problems compared the population as a whole … And above all … to children struggling with their sexuality and gender.”
Dr. McHugh, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, served as the psychiatrist-in-chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital for twenty-five years and specialized in treating the mental disorder now labeled “Gender Dysphoria.”
Both researchers expressed compassion for those struggling with these conditions and the need for more valid research in a variety of areas.
“Children are a special case when addressing gender issues. In the course of their development, many children explore the idea of being of the opposite sex. Some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification, particularly if the identification is strong and persistent over time. But nearly all children ultimately identify with their biological sex. The notion that a two-year-old, having expressed thoughts or behaviors identified with the opposite sex, can be labeled for life as transgender has absolutely no support in science. Indeed, it is iniquitous to believe that all children who have gender-atypical thoughts or behavior at some point in their development, particularly before puberty, should be encouraged to become transgender.” (Emphasis added).
Lies and Bullying from the Human Rights Campaign
October 10, 2016 – On a page published last week on its website, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) repeatedly distorts our recent New Atlantis report “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences.” Furthermore, the HRC threatens Johns Hopkins University with repercussions unless the university publicly disavows and denounces its scholars’ work — thus attempting to chill academic research on controversial subjects in general.
Most of the HRC document is an exercise in distortion. To clarify the record, here are responses to a few specific misrepresentations:
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report “falsely implies that children are ‘encouraged to become transgender.’”
The New Atlantis report, written by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, does not claim that children who identify as transgender do so simply because they are “encouraged” to become transgender. The report states that there is “no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.” Here the report echoes the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which states: “It is unclear if children ‘encouraged’ or supported to live socially in the desired gender will show higher rates of persistence, since such children have not yet been followed longitudinally in a systematic manner.” Not all children who exhibit gender-atypical behaviors are or will become transgender, and so physicians and family members should be cautious in assuming that gender-nonconforming children are in fact transgender. (For a further discussion of this subject, see pages 105–108 of the New Atlantis report, available online here.)
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report “falsely implies … that young transgender children undergo medical interventions as part of affirming their gender identities.”
Rather than falsely asserting what our report “implies,” the HRC should focus on what the report actually says. On that point, here are the facts: Teenagers experiencing gender dysphoria sometimes undergo surgical procedures to alter their secondary sex characteristics. Pre-teen children experiencing gender dysphoria are sometimes given puberty-blocking hormones. And younger children are sometimes provided with psychotherapeutic “gender-affirmative” interventions meant to encourage and support them in their cross-gender identification; medical reports and accounts in the popular press describe the use of such interventions for children five years old and younger.1 (For a further discussion of therapeutic approaches for children who identify as a gender that does not correspond with their biological sex, see pages 105–106 of the New Atlantis report, available online here.)
1 Darryl B. Hill et al., “An Affirmative Intervention for Families With Gender Variant Children: Parental Ratings of Child Mental Health and Gender,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 36 no. 1 (2010): 12, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00926230903375560.
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report “suggests that … [b]eing lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer is caused by childhood sexual abuse.”
Again, the HRC makes false claims about what the report “suggests,” instead of quoting or accurately describing what the report actually says. The report describes scientific research that examines correlations between childhood sexual abuse and homosexuality. This research is important in part because it may help us better to understand the higher rates of poor mental health outcomes among non-heterosexual populations. However, the authors of the New Atlantis report note that, given the current state of research in this area, “the idea that sexual abuse may be a causal factor in sexual orientation remains speculative.” (For a further discussion of this subject, see pages 42–50 of the report, available online here.)
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report “suggests that … LGBTQ people have inherent psychological difficulties.”
The New Atlantis report nowhere asserts that LGBT people have “inherent psychological difficulties.” The report extensively discusses the well-established scientific literature showing higher rates of mental health problems in LGBT subpopulations compared to the general population. As part of their analysis, Drs. Mayer and McHugh examine the “social stress model,” which holds that social stressors, such as stigmatization and discrimination, account for the disparity in mental health outcomes. In reviewing the existing scientific literature, they find that the social stress model can account for “some but not all of the elevated mental health risks.” They conclude that “More research is needed to explore the causes of, and solutions to, these important public health challenges.” (For a further discussion of this subject, see Part Two of the report, available online here.)
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report “suggests that … [s]exual orientation is a choice.”
False. On the first page of Part One, the report explicitly states that “sexual orientation is not a choice.” The report goes on to show that, according to the scientific literature, “biological factors cannot provide a complete explanation” for sexual orientation and that “environmental and experiential factors may also play an important role.” (For a further discussion of this subject, see pages 25–41 of the report, available online here.)
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report “suggests that … [sexual orientation] can be changed.”
The report discusses scientific literature about the fluidity of sexual orientation. It is an incontrovertible fact that, for some people, patterns of sexual desire, attraction, and behavior do change. But the report nowhere discusses deliberate efforts to change sexual orientation. (For a further discussion of the science of whether sexual desires and attractions are fixed or change over time, see pages 50–57 of the report, available online here.)
HRC CLAIM: The report is 116 pages long.
This is a small detail, but it is characteristic of the HRC document’s factual sloppiness. The New Atlantis report is 143 pages long; it consists of 3 pages of frontmatter, 113 pages of text, and 27 pages of endnotes. The complete report can be found freely available online here.
HRC CLAIM: “Dean Hamer … says McHugh and Mayer ‘twisted and misinterpreted’ legitimate research.”
In late August 2016, Dean Hamer, a research scientist, wrote a short commentary for the website of The Advocate criticizing the New Atlantis report. His article has numerous factual errors, and seems to be the source for some of the HRC’s misrepresentations. The editors of The New Atlantis responded to Hamer and explained some of his errors here.
HRC CLAIM: “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.’”
It is true that three Johns Hopkins faculty members, in a September 2016 Baltimore Sun op-ed, made the claim that the New Atlantis report “could further stigmatize and harm the health of LGBTQ communities”; they even grotesquely insinuated that work like the report is somehow related to the recent heinous attack against a gay nightclub in Orlando. But these assertions and insulting implications are made without even the pretense of evidence or argument to support them. We can only invite members of the public to read the report for themselves, to see that there is nothing in it that endorses or incites violence or stigmatization against anyone.
HRC CLAIM: Dr. Lawrence Mayer, one of the coauthors of the New Atlantis report, received a “$400-an-hour fee” for “defending North Carolina’s deeply discriminatory HB2 law in a federal civil rights lawsuit.”
The facts: Dr. Mayer was hired as an expert witness by lawyers for the State of North Carolina in its ongoing litigation with the federal government. The average rate of the federal government’s medical and psychiatric experts in this case is $500 an hour. These fees are typical, and no more call Dr. Mayer’s integrity and impartiality into question than they do the integrity and impartiality of the federal government’s witnesses.
HRC CLAIM: Dr. Paul McHugh, a coauthor of the New Atlantis report, has “collaborat[ed] with an organization deemed a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
The organization that the HRC denounces as a “hate group” is the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), a professional organization; it recently published a statement on gender dysphoria in children, which Dr. McHugh signed. Dr. McHugh’s record as a scientist, clinician, and leader in the field of psychiatry is unimpeachable, as is demonstrated by his position at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his membership in the National Academy of Medicine. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s blanket denouncement of the ACP, based on a policy disagreement, is a disappointing example of extreme rhetoric used to attack those with whom they disagree.
HRC CLAIM: The New Atlantis report offers “unscientific opinions.”
False. The report offers a review of the research literature, written so that all readers — both experts and non-experts alike — can understand what the science actually shows. The report cites nearly 200 peer-reviewed studies in over 300 endnotes. Throughout the report, Drs. Mayer and McHugh take care to describe and explain the evidence on all sides of the questions they discuss — which is far more than can be said of the HRC. Those who actually read the report for themselves will easily see just how badly the HRC misrepresents it.
HRC CLAIM: “McHugh and Mayer have drawn on the Johns Hopkins name to persuade readers to take them seriously.”
While it is true that the report’s authors are respected academics affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, neither they nor the editors of The New Atlantis have done anything to suggest that the report is a publication of Johns Hopkins.
HRC CLAIM: HRC’s efforts to coerce universities to publicly disavow work by their faculty “pose no threat to academic freedom.”
The Human Rights Campaign attempts to preemptively argue that its political assault on Johns Hopkins and its scholars poses no threat to academic freedom, precisely because the HRC recognizes that the public will see this assault for what it is: an obvious threat to academic freedom, and intentionally so. The HRC says that it “has been in communication with Johns Hopkins over the need for an official statement” about the New Atlantis report. The HRC is demanding that the university “clarify that McHugh and Mayer’s opinions do not represent it.” As leverage, the HRC has threatened to alter the way that it ranks the university’s hospital and its medical affiliates in HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index.
Set aside the fact that this threat calls into question the methodology and validity of HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index. This blatant effort to intimidate Johns Hopkins University by insisting that the entire university must answer collectively for everything written by its faculty is a disturbing strategy designed to make impossible respectful disagreement in the academy on controversial matters. The HRC’s claim that its efforts “pose no threat to academic freedom” is nonsense; intimidation tactics of this sort undermine the atmosphere of free and open inquiry that universities are meant to foster.
–By the editors of The New Atlantis