The Human Rights Campaign, America's largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, has threatened to penalize Johns Hopkins University if it does not denounce a report from two of the institution's scholars which concludes that there is little scientific evidence that people are born gay or transgender.
In the special report for The New Atlantis titled Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, a scholar in residence at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences also at John Hopkins School of Medicine conclude there is very little evidence supporting the "born that way" and other theories on sexual orientation.
"Some of the most widely held views about sexual orientation, such as the 'born that way' hypothesis, simply are not supported by science. The literature in this area does describe a small ensemble of biological differences between non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals, but those biological differences are not sufficient to predict sexual orientation, the ultimate test of any scientific finding," the report said. "The strongest statement that science offers to explain sexual orientation is that some biological factors appear, to an unknown extent, to predispose some individuals to a non-heterosexual orientation."
When it comes to transgenderism, the study explained the phenomenon is even more complex.
"The suggestion that we are 'born that way' is more complex in the case of gender identity. In one sense, the evidence that we are born with a given gender seems well supported by direct observation: males overwhelmingly identify as men and females as women. The fact that children are (with a few exceptions of intersex individuals) born either biologically male or female is beyond debate," the report said. "The biological sexes play complementary roles in reproduction, and there are a number of population-level average physiological and psychological differences between the sexes. However, while biological sex is an innate feature of human beings, gender identity is a more elusive concept."
The report attracted the attention of HRC and the organization said it agreed with "nearly 700 members of the Johns Hopkins community" who feel the report was a "misguided, misinformed attack on LGBT communities" and called for the university to distance itself from the scholars and the report or face consequences.
"HRC has been in communication with Johns Hopkins over the need for an official statement about McHugh and Mayer's activities. Recently, HRC met with leadership at Johns Hopkins to express the urgency of this issue and the continued need for action," HRC said in a statement on its website.
"This year, for the first time, HRC Foundation's Healthcare Equality Index will rate hospitals with a numerical score and will consider whether hospitals and health systems' practices reflect 'responsible citizenship.' If Hopkins' leadership ignores their community's call to correct the record — clarifying that McHugh and Mayer's opinions do not represent it, and that its healthcare services provided reflect the scientific consensus on LGBTQ health and well-being — its Healthcare Equality Index score will be reduced substantially," added the LGBTQ organization.
In a letter to the Johns Hopkins Medicine community on Friday Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Ronald R. Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins Health System, said the institution remained committed to supporting the LGBT community.
"Johns Hopkins Medicine's commitment to the LGBT community is strong and unambiguous. In July, we wrote to you in support of the LGBT community and Baltimore Pride celebration. In that message, we highlighted the policies, practices and programs at Johns Hopkins Medicine that reflect our deep commitment to providing a welcoming and supportive environment — and the best possible care — for all LGBT individuals who work for or seek help from Johns Hopkins Medicine," the letter began.
"In recent months, some have questioned our position, both inside and outside the institution, not because of any change in our practice or policy, but because of the varied individual opinions expressed publicly by members of the Johns Hopkins Medicine community. We have taken these concerns seriously," it continued.
Officials noted however that while they remain committed to supporting the LGBT community they are also committed to academic freedom.
"We also restate that as an academic medical research institution, academic freedom is among our fundamental principles — essential to the self-correcting nature of scientific inquiry, and a privilege that we safeguard. When individuals associated with Johns Hopkins exercise the right of expression, they do not speak on behalf of the institution. As set forth in the Johns Hopkins University Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom, academic freedom is designed to afford members of the community the broadest possible scope for unencumbered expression, investigation, analysis, and discourse,'" the officials.
In an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun last month, a number of Johns Hopkins faculty branded the report as "troubling."
"The recent report, released by one current and one former member of our faculty on the topic of LGBTQ health, is so troubling. The report, 'Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological and Psychological and Social Sciences,' was not published in the scientific literature, where it would have been subject to rigorous peer review prior to publication. It purports to detail the science of this area, but it falls short of being a comprehensive review," the faculty charged.
"We wish to make clear that there are many people at Hopkins who hold a profound and long-standing commitment to the health, wellness, well-being, and fair and non-stigmatizing treatment of LGBTQ people and communities. We do not believe that the 'Sexuality and Gender' report cited above is a comprehensive portrayal of the current science, and we respectfully disassociate ourselves from its findings," they added.
A statement released by editors of The New Atlantis on Monday, on the other hand, describes the HRC as a bullying organization launching a "political assault" on Johns Hopkins.
"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 editors said.
"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," the editors added.
Speaking with Adam Keiper, editor of The New Atlantis, about the findings in the report, Dr. McHugh, described as "arguably the most important figure in American psychiatry in the last half century," explained that more research is needed to better understand sexuality.
"I think in the transgender world and the world of both heterosexual and homosexual life, the assumption is that science has given us full answers and it is complete, is closing off debate about what further science is needed, what the nature of the contemporary science really is," he explained.
"Science is never settled. There is always another and better experiment and a better study to do. The claim that it is settled now that the issues such as 'born that way' or you're fixed or it's immutable, there is no evidence from the science that those things are correct," he said.
Dr. Mayer added it is difficult to make a definitive statement on transgenderism because there is insufficient data.
"I would say more scientifically based research is needed. There are thousands of articles published where people express opinions and they grab some data to support their opinion but the sort of long term follow-up that looked at an entire community over time and compared it to other communities that's what we really need," said Mayer, who said he was driven to explore transgenderism because of children.
"I care about the welfare of children a great deal. That's my primary concern. I got involved when I read more and more statements about the discovery that children as young as two years old were transgender. The parents declared they were transgender when in fact the majority of children at some time in their life identify with members of the opposite sex actually grow out of that. The notion of gender among children is very, very fluid," he said.