It’s a first: Johns Hopkins loses points with HRC for anti-LGBTQ stance

It’s a first: Johns Hopkins loses points with HRC for anti-LGBTQ stance
Photo: File
For the first time in the decade-long history of the Healthcare Equality Index, published annually by Human Rights Campaign, Johns Hopkins Hospital’s controversial reputation for transgender care has cost it valuable points in the highly-regarded national survey of more than 1,600 medical facilities serving America’s LGBTQ community.

The deduction of 25 points out of a potential 100, according to HRC, was for its poor showing in the new category of “Responsible Citizenship,” and left Johns Hopkins Hospital with a final score of 40, about half of what most institutions were awarded.

This might surprise some of those who read in LGBTQ Nation last October that the world-famous hospital would resume offering gender affirmation surgery for the first time in 40 years. But as HRC noted in its online explanation for the demerits, concern is warranted, given Johns Hopkins’ checkered history.

“There are LGBTQ patients who either are going to Hopkins or want to go to Hopkins, who are fearful that the care they will receive is either substandard or subpar,” said Sarah McBride, HRC National Press Secretary, in a telephone interview with LGBTQ Nation.

Sarah McBride, HRC National Press Secretary Facebook

“Over the last year or so, we have seen an increase in the myths and the junk science peddled by Paul McHugh. We’ve seen increasingly Johns Hopkins’ name being utilized to back up the essays written by McHugh,” McBride said. “And we are seeing very clearly, particularly in the last year or two, in court cases and in legislatures, the harm that that’s having.

She’s referring to Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry, former chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and to this day a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. As advocate Brynn Tannehill described him, McHugh has misused his position “to distort science and spread transphobic misinformation.” McHugh is a gun-for-hire for anti-equality activists that have been labeled extremist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Among the words Dr. McHugh has used to describe transgender people over the years: “counterfeits,” “impersonators,” “confused” and “mad.”

Dr. Paul McHugh Johns Hopkins Medicine

As Tannehill has extensively written, what makes McHugh dangerous is not just his so-called “expert” testimony and frequent citations in rightwing anti-trans propaganda, but how his conclusions influence others in a position of authority. In a 2016 “position statement” issued by an official-sounding but bogus pediatrics group calling transgender treatment child abuse, McHugh “distorts the facts” with “omissions, half-truths, outdated research, and motivated entirely by religious based bias against a group of people already heavily stigmatized by society,” according to Tannehill. “The fact that every last one of his points can be disproven by anyone with access to Google discredits the academic standards of the institution.”

“I’m also already hearing from parents of transgender children that relatives and people hostile to them in the community are using this position statement to threaten to report them to child protective services and take their children away.”

And then came last August’s “special report” by McHugh and biostatistician Dr. Lawrence Mayer: a 143-page article in a conservative magazine — not a scientific paper in a respected journal — that repeated disproven claims about transgender and LGB people. “For example,” HRC explained in its post about Johns Hopkins Hospital, “they suggest that LGBTQ people have inherent psychological difficulties, and that LGBQ sexual orientations may be caused by sexual abuse during childhood.”
Dr. Lawrence Mayer, left, and Dr. Paul McHugh

Dean Hamer, Ph.D., and scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, blasted Mayer and McHugh’s claims that sexual orientation is chosen and not fixed, and that gay people are not “born gay” as “pure balderdash.” Hamer noted in expert detail how McHugh and Mayer cherry-picked studies and spun their findings to bolster their conservative conclusions, in The Advocate. “When the data we have struggled so long and hard to collect is twisted and misinterpreted by people who call themselves scientists, and who receive the benefits and protection of a mainstream institution such as John Hopkins Medical School, it disgusts me,” Dr. Hamer wrote.

All this, said McBride, “raises questions about the kind of care [transgender people] will receive at Hopkins. It makes them feel less safe, less secure. And those feelings put up barriers to the kind of care trans people need when they go to Hopkins.”
She knows that feeling all too well.
McBride’s late husband, Andy Cray, was a 28-year-old trans man and a patient at Hopkins throughout his struggle with oral cancer. She told of his heroic battle in a loving post on Medium, but revealed another side of that emotional story during the phone interview.
Sarah McBride, left, and Andy Cray Sarah McBride

“We were cautious,” McBride told LGBTQ Nation, acknowledging that while the hospital had a sterling reputation for cancer treatment, they had other concerns for Andy’s care.

Throughout his care at Hopkins, in the back of our minds was always the knowledge of Hopkins’ troubled history on trans issues, and the fact there were prominent Hopkins professors, utilizing the Hopkins name to peddle junk science on transgender people. So, throughout his battle with cancer, throughout the threat of what would become terminal cancer, in the back of his mind and the back of my mind was this constant fear that the care that he would be getting from Hopkins would be subpar. That the history of the institution… would even subtly diminish the quality of care that he received. 
Andy Cray died in August 2014, four days after their wedding.
Sarah McBride

McBride has been part of the team meeting and corresponding with Johns Hopkins for the better part of a year in hopes of showing its staff that it needs to disavow McHugh and Mayer. While the university has balked at that, nearly 700 members of the Johns Hopkins community signed a formal petition asking officials to declare they do not support their “misguided, misinformed attack on LGBT communities.”

Since it didn’t happen, HRC made good on a promise made both privately and in the press, to publicly admonish Johns Hopkins for refusing to disavow Drs. McHugh and Mayer’s work. In its HEI report, the group explains what it will take to remove the 25-point deduction.

We have asked that they make it clear that while Drs. McHugh and Mayer are free to pursue their areas of interest and express their point of view and opinions, their opinions on LGBTQ people are their own and do not reflect the views of the Johns Hopkins University or Johns Hopkins Medicine. Furthermore, we would like them to confirm that Johns Hopkins Medicine operates in accordance with the positions of leading medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and other leading medical organizations that support affirming care for LGBTQ people.

“It’s on the institution to make clear, to make it explicitly clear,” McBride said, “that they will treat transgender people in accordance with the medical consensus and the Standards of Care that exist, whether that’s for transition-related care or treatment that’s unrelated.”

Editor’s Note: A Johns Hopkins spokesperson sent LGBTQ Nation this statement in response to HRC’s ranking, just minutes after our report was published. The statement does not directly address HRC’s request that Johns Hopkins distance itself from McHugh and Mayer:

The Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins Health System are deeply committed to inclusiveness, including respect and support for our LGBTQ students, patients, employees and other members of the Johns Hopkins community.

As one of the world’s leading research institutions, we value scientific integrity and academic freedom. A cornerstone of that academic freedom at Johns Hopkins and across the country is a faculty member’s ability to express views and have those views tested by the criticism of those who disagree.

In 2016, we were awarded leadership status as part of the HRC Healthcare Equality Index.  Since that time, we have continued to expand on our commitment to provide the best possible care to all patients that we have the privilege of serving.  This includes the development of our Center for Transgender Health, a Johns Hopkins multidisciplinary center focused on supporting the needs of the LGBTQ community.  While we can appreciate the opinions of outside organizations, the outcomes of our patients, and the satisfaction of our patients and their families who come to Johns Hopkins Medicine seeking help, are the ultimate measures of our success.

It also should be noted that HRC bestowed its coveted “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality” designation upon 303 medical institutions this year, but Johns Hopkins was not one of them.

To find out more about why HRC deducted points from Johns Hopkins’ score, check out HRC’s page for the hospital, and to learn about other institutions and their rankings in the 2017 Healthcare Equality Index, visit HRC’s HEI page.

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