Profile in Courage:
Dr. Paul McHugh, Champion of Science

An accomplished psychiatrist and consummate scientist for more than 50 years, Dr. Paul McHugh is a tireless defender of objective truth. Educated at Harvard Medical School, McHugh continued his studies at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he focused on neurology and neuropathology. He went on to attend the Institute of Psychiatry in London, followed by a stint in the Division of Neuropsychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

During his studies and subsequent work in the field of psychiatry, Dr. McHugh developed a healthy skepticism of certain psychiatric theories and fads. As the famed late author, Tom Wolfe, said of McHugh, who treated him for depression following bypass surgery: “Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins is the man who rescued modern psychiatry from a coven of flaming nut cases with medical degrees who actually believed in such lunatic notions as ‘recovered memory,’ ‘sexual reassignment,’ ‘multiple personality disorder,’ ‘physician-assisted suicide,’ ‘Vietnam-specific post-traumatic stress syndrome,’ and destroyed innumerable lives as long as they held sway.” (Quote taken from, May 2021.)

Following a series of appointments to various medical centers from New York to Oregon, Dr. McHugh joined Johns Hopkins University in 1975 as director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, while at the same time serving as psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1979 he was instrumental in stopping the institution’s performance of “sex reassignment surgeries,” a moratorium that he oversaw for 38 years.

In a 2015 article on Public Discourse, Dr. McHugh wrote that Johns Hopkins’ pioneering of sex-change surgery “demonstrated that the practice brought no important benefits. As a result, we stopped offering that form of treatment in the 1970s. Our efforts, though, had little influence on the emergence of this new idea about sex, or upon the expansion of the number of ‘transgendered’ among young and old.”

Just one year later in 2016, the famed medical center caved to pressure from the transgender lobby — primarily from the activist group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — and reinstated the transgender surgeries. In August of that year, in partnership with Dr. Lawrence Mayer (also of Johns Hopkins), Dr. McHugh published what described as “an authoritative 143-page study of all peer reviewed papers on sexual orientation,” and came to the conclusion that “there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation is inherited.”

Persecution of Dr. McHugh

By the spring of 2017, transgender activists had circled the wagons and some 600 “health experts” signed onto a letter condemning McHugh’s and Mayer’s report. As may be expected, McHugh was no stranger to the LGBT lobby, who had attacked him previously for his belief as a scientist and a Christian that “transgender people need mental health services, not medical ones.”

According to an article in The Christian Post, the letter attacked the report because “it was not peer-reviewed.” However, it cited many studies that were peer-reviewed and included “a careful summary and an up-to-date explanation of research — from the biological, psychological, and social sciences — related to sexual orientation and gender identity.” Nonetheless, the letter claimed that the research “misleads readers” and that its conclusions “do not reflect current scientific or medical consensus about sexual orientation or gender identity research findings or clinical care recommendations.”

In response, the then-85-year-old McHugh dismissed the letter as “not serious because the objection that the signatories have to the report is not made clear.” He told The Christian Post that “the main point about this letter is that they just don’t like us. That's all there is about this matter. I'm sorry they don't like us but if they disagree with something specific, they should say so. They should make the specific objection clear to us. After all, we said we expected there to be ongoing discussion about our views, interpretation, or even what the data should signify...” He added: “We are not against anybody. We are a group of doctors talking about the treatment of patients. [The letter] is just an attempt to silence us and it won’t succeed.”

At the time the study was published, Dr. Mayer also stood by the duo’s research. “Every line in this [report] I either wrote or approved of,” he said. “There is no bias either way. The bias is just towards science.”

The study was also cited in a Supreme Court amicus brief dated January 10, 2017, filed by the conservative Liberty Counsel in support of a Virginia school district being sued by a transgender student for the right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the student’s gender identity. The student was a female who decided to become a male and was using the boys’ bathrooms at school. The school district ultimately lost the case on appeal to the Fourth Circuit in 2020 (Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, No. 19-1952 (4th Cir. 2020)), and in 2021, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, leaving intact the decision of the Fourth Circuit.

The transgender lobby was undeterred by Dr. McHugh’s extensive professional accolades, awards, and credentials, and continued their attempts to discredit his work. LifeSiteNews reported that in 2017, HRC created a “special attack website — which appears to no longer be active — called ‘McHugh Exposed,’ which accused him of peddling ‘junk science.’” Dr. McHugh and anyone espousing his views was labeled “homophobic,” “transphobic,” and an “exporter of hate.” Name-calling and negative labeling are hallmarks of the left, which has no valid argument against scientific reality.

LifeSiteNews continued: “McHugh’s popularity on the national stage among conservatives grew after The Wall Street Journal published his op-ed, “Transgender Surgery Is Not the Solution,” in 2014. The Journal piece is cited regularly by opponents of “transgender activism the world over.”

McHugh wrote in the op-ed:

  • [P]olicy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment, and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken — it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.

Transgender activists especially resented McHugh’s comparison of gender-confused people to those with eating disorders. As McHugh further wrote:

  • The transgendered suffer a disorder of ‘assumption’ like those in other disorders familiar to psychiatrists. With the transgendered, the disordered assumption is that the individual differs from what seems given in nature — namely one’s maleness or femaleness. Other kinds of disordered assumptions are held by those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, where the assumption that departs from physical reality is the belief by the dangerously thin that they are overweight.

Pro-family professionals defend McHugh

While Dr. McHugh’s voice for gender sanity may have the most longevity and scientific credibility, his is fortunately not the only one. LifeSiteNews reported that Ryan Anderson, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, tweeted during the height of the attacks against the scientist: “Dr. McHugh is an accomplished medical professional completely devoted to the health of his patients... Attacks on Dr. McHugh are amazing: It's not the man who thinks he's a woman who has mental issues, it's the doctor who dares speak truth.”

In a 2016 article on Public Discourse titled Transgenderism Has No Basis in Science or Law, Margaret Hagen, JD, Ph.D, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, described the laws being proposed at the time to accommodate the transgender agenda. She called them “highly controversial legislation, threatened executive edicts, and heavy-handed federal mandates regarding discrimination and public accommodation; laws that require—among other things—public and private institutions, businesses, and schools to allow biological males who self-identify as females to use the toilet facilities and locker rooms of females (and vice versa).” She added that “such forced accommodations have no reasonable basis in law or medicine.”

Echoing the findings of McHugh, Hagen wrote: “Let us be clear: there is no such thing as ‘sex-reassignment’ surgery. A mutilated male pumped full of estrogen remains just that—a mutilated male pumped full of estrogen. He has not ‘transitioned’ into being a woman. He can never be a woman. Nor are the hundreds of thousands of women who have undergone total hysterectomies for various reasons transformed into males. They remain women whose ovaries and wombs have been removed. They are not men.”

Hagen’s article also decried “interference with the normal sexual development of children on the basis of political ideology,” asserting that “it is not just unethical—it is child abuse. It is not only past time for an extensive public discussion of this practice; it is past time to put an end to it.”

Of course, she wrote this article six years ago, and despite her best efforts and those of other true scientists, doctors, psychiatrists, parents, concerned citizens, and some politicians, the transgender juggernaut rolls on, with more and more children falling victim to its false ideology.

Meanwhile, at the age of 91, Dr. Paul McHugh’s long career in pursuit of scientific truth is winding down. As Denver Catholic noted in May 2021 on the occasion of his 90th birthday:

  • Few scientists have made greater contributions to unraveling the mysteries of our complex inner lives than Paul McHugh; few men of such eminence have suffered such calumnies from critics who haven’t one-fifth of his intellectual wattage or one-tenth of his moral courage. He has been a sign of contradiction for much of his professional life, not because he sought controversy but because he sought truth. And he did that because Paul McHugh, consummate scientist and serious Catholic, understands that knowing and living by the truths embedded in us and in the world helps satisfy our innate desire for happiness, while ignoring or denying those truths adds to the burdens of human suffering.

The world needs others similarly motivated to rise up and carry on the fight.

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