NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- Much of the reporting about the Houston ordinance that grants transgender rights has been about the city's issuance and subsequent withdrawal of subpoenas demanding materials from five area pastors. Or, it has focused on the lawsuit petitioners filed against the mayor for failing to comply with the city charter and accept City Secretary Anna Russell's validation of signatures seeking a city-wide vote on the transgender ordinance.
But largely lost in the debate about rights and politics is the science that suggests the Houston ordinance may cause more harm than help for persons with transgender identities.
"Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder," according to Paul R. McHugh in an editorial published June 12 in the Wall Street Journal.
McHugh, a venerated psychiatrist, researcher and educator, is the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, and served as Psychiatrist-in-Chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1975–2001.
He was addressing what he called a movement that was in "overdrive" in "advancing the transgender cause," and specifically named three instances as evidence: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' determination that Medicare can pay for "reassignment" surgery; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's stated openness to lifting a ban on transgenders serving in the military; and a Time magazine cover story, "The Transgender Tipping Point: America's Next Civil Rights Frontier."
But the controversial Houston city ordinance also was in national headlines at the same time.
Mayor Annise Parker – the first openly lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city – who crafted the ordinance that passed May 28, acknowledged the ordinance included a "gay and transgender section" but argued that it is a "comprehensive ordinance" because it also included protected classes already in federal laws.
McHugh said policy 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."
"'Sex change' is biologically impossible," he said. And he strongly criticized efforts to legalize what he described as the subjective "feeling of gender" that "being in one's mind, cannot be questioned by others."
"The individual often seeks not just society's tolerance of this 'personal truth' but affirmation of it," he wrote. The end result is a demand for "transgender equality" including government payment for medical and surgical treatments, "and for access to all sex-based public roles and privileges."
Proponents for the controversial ordinance, which initially contained a provision allowing biological males to use women's restrooms, did press on these very points.
"Transgender people didn't choose to be transgendered," said James Quinn, described May 15 by freepresshouston.com as "a gay man who came to speak about his experiences with discrimination."
"Religious people chose to be religious" Quinn added. "Why don't we protect what is a part of somebody rather than what somebody chooses?"
"Shouldn't we make our city welcoming to all citizens?" he asked.
The article also called for "the little protections" such as the right to use any public restroom, saying fear of using the restroom caused many transgender individuals to resort to "keeping buckets under their desk at work" or just not going at all.
Despite the loss of that provision with an amended ordinance, the article celebrated that "Parker kept gender identity and orientation protection for hiring, firing, and housing."
McHugh cited science, not political or social views to support his conclusions about transsexuality.
"When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25% did have persisting feelings; what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned," he said.
Moreover, he described the policy change at Johns Hopkins University in 1979 after tracking transgender people who had surgery with those who did not. He said most of the surgical patients described themselves as "satisfied" but that their "psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery."
On those results, Johns Hopkins Hospital stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, "since producing a 'satisfied' but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs," he wrote.
Recent research by the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Sweden appears to vindicate the decision.
In a long-term study that followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery, researchers found transgender individuals began to experience increasing mental difficulties about 10 years after having the surgery. Notably, this cohort experienced a suicide mortality rate almost 20 times more than the nontransgender population.
McHugh's conclusion is "The high suicide rate certainly challenges the surgery prescription."
The lawsuit to force Houston to allow a city-wide ballot initiative was filed by two pastors, a physician, and the former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and, was filed in the Harris County District Court on August 4.
Max Miller, pastor of Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church; F.N. Wilams Sr., pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church; Steven Hotze, founder and CEO of Hotze Health & Wellness, Hotze Vitamins and Hotze Pharmacy; and, Jared Woodfill, candidate for chairman of the Texas Republican Party, sought an immediate injunction to allow Houstonians to vote to keep or reject the ordinance.
Having missed the Aug. 18 deadline for calling a November vote, the plaintiffs now must wait to see if the District Court will allow any of their requests to: suspend enforcement of the ordinance, force reconsideration by the city council, or call for an election on whether to repeal it. The case is set for January 2015.