Former Church leader caught spreading untruth about healthcare for vulnerable transgender patients.


David Robertson, former Moderator of The Free Church of Scotland

By Paris Lees and Sarah Lennox

In an opinion piece entitled: “Dare to debate this damaging idea that gender is a social construct”, David Robertson, a minister and former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, sought to justify his belief that Gender Affirmation Surgery1 is harmful by stating:

Professor Paul McHugh of the John Hopkins Medical School, one of the first in the world to offer gender reassignment surgery, now says the process is so harmful they have stopped doing them.

In fact, the opposite is true. As John Hopkins Medicine (JHM) made clear in 2016:

We have committed to and will soon begin providing gender-affirming surgery as another important element of our overall care program, reflecting careful consideration over the past year of best practices and the appropriate provision of care for transgender individuals.

JHM’s decision to offer the surgery reflects its “evidence-based, patient-centered” approach.


Paul McHugh

Robertson also failed to note that Paul McHugh retired as director of the Department of Psychiatry at JHM in 2001. McHugh, 87, condemns current medical therapies available to the trans community on grounds of religious ideology: he also considers homosexuality to be an “erroneous desire” and supported California Proposition 8. He advises a fringe group calling itself ‘The American College of Pediatricians’, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group“, with “a history of propagating damaging falsehoods about LGBT people”.


Dean Hamer, scientist emeritus at the National US Institutes of Health, describes McHugh as using a “selective and outdated collection of references and arguments aimed at confusing rather than clarifying our understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Following a complaint made through IPSO, The Scotsman have made the following correction:

In an article entitled “Dare to debate this damaging idea that gender is a social construct”, David Robertson, of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, wrote: ‘Professor Paul McHugh of the John Hopkins Medical School, one of the first to offer gender reassignment surgery, now says the process is so harmful they have stopped doing so.’ 

We have been informed that, although John Hopkins Medical School stopped carrying out genitoplasty under Prof McHugh’s direction in the 1970s, it has since reversed this policy and is now ‘fully committed to providing gender-affirming surgery’. An official statement issued in 2016 confirmed that the decision to resume this surgery was taken as the result of ‘careful consideration over the past year of best practices and the appropriate provision of care for transgender individuals’.  We are happy to set the record straight.


Robertson did not make clear that his claim “One doctor said he was stopping doing such operations because they had an 80 per cent negative outcome” was based on a serious misrepresentation by McHugh of a 2011 study undertaken at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Indeed the author of this study, Dr Cecilia Dhjene has gone on record many times to debunk such misrepresentation. “It’s very frustrating!” she says.

I’ve even seen professors use my work to support ridiculous claims. I’ve often had to respond myself by commenting on articles, speaking with journalists, and talking about this problem at conferences. The Huffington Post wrote an article about the way my research is misrepresented … Of course trans medical and psychological care is efficacious. A 2010 meta-analysis confirmed by studies thereafter show that medical gender confirming interventions reduces gender dysphoria.

Nor did Robertson reference the numerous other studies (Murad M., 2010, DeCuypere, 2006, Kuiper M. 1988, Gorton 2011, Clements-Nolle K., 2006) that consistently show how access to gender affirmation surgery significantly reduces the risk of suicide.

Nor, indeed, did he mention the consensus among currently practicing gender specialists regarding the benefits of gender affirming surgeries (where indicated as appropriate according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s current guidelines).


Award winning journalist and equality campaigner Paris Lees said: 

This article contained serious misinformation, which may harm vulnerable people by discouraging them from seeking potentially life-saving treatment. It may also persuade confused family members to withdraw their support, right when the people they love need it most.

This article is part of a worrying trend to cite misleading, inaccurate and outdated evidence in an attempt to deny trans people their rights, driven by ideology. Why do they drag up discredited studies and ‘experts’ from 50 years ago when all recent evidence shows trans people do better with medical support? As David Robertson claims to be a man of God, I’m sure he’ll want to apologise for spreading such misinformation as soon as possible.

Indeed, a programme entitled ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best’, broadcast by the BBC on 12th January 2017, showcased the views of Dr Ken Zucker and Dr Ray Blanchard, the basis of whose theories were developed in the 1970s and 80s. It gave very little airtime to widely accepted current best practice in relation to trans youth.


Ken Zucker

Blanchard’s theories have been rejected by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (the largest association of medical professionals who provide care for trans people) as lacking empirical evidence. Zucker has been accused of practicing conversion therapy on trans children. His Toronto Children’s Clinic was shut down by the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry CAMH in December 2015. CAMH’s medical director stated: “We expect CAMH’s services to reflect the latest and best practices in the field. We want to apologize for the fact that not all of the practices in our childhood gender identity clinic are in step with the latest thinking.”


Ray Blanchard

The evening before the broadcast of this documentary, BBC Newsnight also called on Ray Blanchard to discuss the issues raised by it without revealing that he is a longtime friend, collaborator  and associate of Dr Zucker’s at CAMH Toronto.


Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour

Another instance involves Dame Jenni Murray, whose 30-year reputation as presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour is widely assumed to be one of impartiality and reliability. In a recent comment piece for The Sunday Times she sought to cast doubt on the reliability of evidence for the incidence of suicide risk among young trans people. Giving credence to such doubts without reference to the substantial body of evidence from around the world that Transgender youth represent a vulnerable population at risk for negative mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidality could well put young lives at risk.


Robertson’s piece contained many other misleading opinions.

For instance his assertion that “84 per cent of children who experience gender identity issues resort to their biological gender by the time they are in adulthood” repeats a well-known myth which Dr Helen Webberley – in line with many other current practitioners in the field – describes as an: “inaccurate statistic, which should no longer be used as a proof point in the argument against treating children with gender variance.”

Robertson also states: “Bear in mind that a transgender teenager is twenty times more likely to attempt suicide than a non-transgender”. What he fails to mention is that this figure applies only where children lack access to family and social support and/or appropriate medical therapy. When such social support is in place, studies show self-harm ceases to be an issue.

Recent studies have all reached the same conclusion of positive outcomes for children who undergo supported social transition and, where current guidelines consider appropriate, suspension of puberty with blockers.


Perhaps David Robertson should also apologise for defaming John Hopkins Medicine. In a twitter exchange with Sarah Lennox, co-founder of AllAbout Trans, Robertson claimed that the only reason Hopkins had restarted provision of gender affirmation surgery was “because they have been threatened by trans activists”.


Given that Hopkins themselves stated their approach as following “evidence-based, patient-centered care” and “reflecting careful consideration over the past year of best practices and the appropriate provision of care for transgender individuals”, Robertson appears to have put on record a prima facie libel against this world renowned medical faculty … that they bowed to pressure from a handful of transgender activists rather than basing their decision strictly on scientific evidence and best practice.

1Gender Affirmation Surgery is the term used by most current practitioners in the field as being more appropriate than the older terminology of Gender Reassignment Surgery