Content warning: transphobia

An Oxford University professor has come under public scrutiny after contributing to a front page story in the Times criticising the use of hormone blockers on young people as “an unregulated live experiment on children.”

Professor Carl Heneghan, a fellow at Kellogg College and the director of the Centre of Evidence-Based Medicine, provided a comment piece to the newspaper as a supplement to an investigation into the Gender Identity Development Service Clinic, which the Times described as “the only NHS gender clinic for children”.

Professor Heneghan’s appeal was made on the basis of medical skepticism over the practice, writing that: “the majority of drugs in use are frequently supported by low-quality evidence about their use beyond the usual age for puberty, or in many cases no evidence at all”.

The piece to which Professor Heneghan contributed sparked a significant outrage, with prominent figures criticising the Times for its coverage. MP for Cardiff South Stephen Doughty tweeted: “It’s not just the shocking 1980s style headline – @thetimes @TimesLucy have given us a bumper edition of prejudice against the #Trans community today. Do they have *any* idea or even care about the harm this risks causing?”.

Speaking to Cherwell, Professor Heneghan stood by his comments, saying: “the development of these interventions should occur in the context of research. Treatments for under 18 gender dysphoric children and adolescents remain largely experimental.

“There are a large number of unanswered questions that include the age at start, reversibility; adverse events, long term effects on mental health, quality of life, bone mineral density, osteoporosis in later life and cognition.”

Responding to the issue for Cherwell, transgender campaigner Fox Fisher wrote: “The University of Oxford has a responsibility to make sure all students feel safe to attend the school – behaviour of this sort should never be tolerated and jeopardises the well-being of students and the integrity of the institution.

“Look at any modern research in anthropology, sociology, biology, psychology or psychiatry – all indicates that trans children benefit massively from being allowed to express themselves.”

In a public statement regarding the article, the Oxford Student Union LGBTQ+ Campaign condemned the article and urged both members of the LGBTQ+ Community and its allies to launch official complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (ISPO).

The statement read: “Transphobic, fear-mongering articles being given priority in national news is unacceptable. Although the article includes information and statements from the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) that refutes its own main line of argument, emphasis is still placed upon unsupported and dangerous viewpoints.

“The prominence of this article within the issue of The Times clearly means to stir up misinformation which will exacerbate the difficulties transgender and gender nonconforming children and teenagers face in the UK.

“The article additionally relies on a statement from Carl Heneghan, who is a senior tutor at Kellogg College. His words attempt to give credibility to a transphobic rhetoric which is harmful to transgender people both within and outside of the University. It is deeply concerning that Dr Heneghan’s attempt to sow confusion about the treatment of trans children by conflating different treatment methods and rejecting information from the GIDS itself is being legitimised by the name of the University in this way.

“Conspicuously absent from both pieces are the voices of transgender people who have used the services provided by GIDS. Ignoring the perspective of the people who matter most in this issue, transgender children, is entirely unbalanced reporting.

“As such, both pieces fail to contribute to any kind of representative discussion on gender dysphoria, perpetuating only a transphobic editorial line.”

This article will be updated as we receive more information.

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