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  • Ewan Somerville

Taxpayer-funded Oxford study into puberty blockers is ‘hardline trans activism’

Row erupts over university academics who were given a £700,000 grant to study the healthcare needs of young trans people.

A row between Oxford academics has broken out over a taxpayer-funded transgender study whose participants laud the benefits of puberty blockers for children as young as 13. The university’s prestigious Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences was given a £700,000 public grant to identify the healthcare needs of young trans people. The three-year research has now been published, interviewing 50 trans and gender-diverse people across Britain about their experiences, along with 20 parents and carers and covering topics including everyday life, the Tavistock Clinic waiting list, school and family. However, it has been met with a backlash over what critics call its “hardline trans activism”. It was led by Dr Melissa Stepney and Dr Sam Martin, two Oxford researchers who posted call-out adverts for trans interviewees aged 12 to 35 on Twitter by tagging the controversial charities Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence. The advisory panel features three staff from Mermaids, the charity now being investigated by the Charity Commission over safeguarding concerns, and the chief executive of Gendered Intelligence, which campaigned against a High Court ruling on puberty blockers for under-16s.

Dr Melissa Stepney, left, and Dr Sam Martin led the three-year research project

A large section on healthcare includes interviews with Evelyn, a 14-year-old, about using puberty blockers, who said that “hormone blockers are good for trans youth” and that it was “dumb and unnecessary” to have to wait for them while going through puberty. It also contains an interview with Tom, a 13-year-old who was asked by interviewers to rebut those who are “critical about hormone blockers” and asked “What would you say to people that might actually want to try and stop young kids getting blockers?” The 13-year-old is featured twice, first describing the “really good” reversal of changes in breast development and then to “describe the positive impacts” of puberty blockers. Other interviewees describe how it is “cruel, just cruel” to be referred for puberty blockers aged 12 and not receive them until 16, another said they “would have leapt at the opportunity” to take them, while another mentioned two suicide attempts during puberty. While the drawbacks of cross-sex hormones and gender reassignment surgery are discussed in other sections, the puberty blockers chapter fails to mention concerns about the irreversibility of some side effects. The study initially named Gender GP, a private clinic whose founder was prosecuted for running it illegally, in two interviews with 17-year-olds and on its front page, but this was removed when Prof Michael Biggs, an Oxford academic, complained.

‘Project poses risk to Oxford’s reputation’ Prof Biggs, an expert in sociology, last week wrote a second complaint to the University of Oxford’s registrar alleging a conflict of interest between some activists using the study to advertise their own consultancy businesses, and raising concerns with the ethical board. “My concern about this research project is shared by others,” Prof Biggs told The Telegraph, who said that an individual interviewed by the project contacted him last year. He claimed that other medical professionals have also raised concerns. “This project poses a risk to the University’s reputation.” One parent, who was interviewed alongside 19 others for the study, told The Telegraph: “Trans rights activists have hijacked this study, they’ve used it as a figleaf for hardline trans activism and have recruited from a very narrow selection of channels. “I only got involved by accident, after seeing an advert on the Mermaids Twitter feed, and they were shocked at how off-script I was. I am under the name Elijah and the only parent without an introduction, without a biography, heavily redacted. “The whole purpose of the study was to push for barrierless medication for children as quickly as possible, that was the starting point. It is textbook institutional capture.”


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