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The National Black Justice Coalition Demands NIH, UCLA Immediately Suspend Cruel, Emotionally-Damaging Transgender Dysphoria Study

CONTACT: Jordan Wilhelmi |

WASHINGTON – Today, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) released a statement opposing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and University of California at Los Angeles’ (UCLA) study seeking to measure brain responses to body and gender dysphoria. 

The study, “Gender Identity and Own Body Perception Implications for the Neurobiology of Gender Dysphoria,” uses a “novel body-morph visual processing tool,” to dress subjects in skin-tight garb, allowing them to manipulate their anatomy along a spectrum of gender appearances in order to study their cognitive and emotional reactions. 

The NBJC argues that showing study participants images of themselves that they may never have the opportunity to experience is a cruel and heartless method to learn more about gender dysphoria. Many transgender people do not have the financial means to pay for gender affirmation surgery or the procedures required to achieve the aesthetics shown in their visual transformations. NBJC warns that participants are likely already experiencing a negative impact on their mental health as a result of their participation in the poorly-designed study.

David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, explained: 

“We are appalled at not only the research design of this study, but also at the fact that the NIH and UCLA’s Institutional Review Board approved the design. The NIH and UCLA must do more than just put an immediate pause on this cruel experiment on vulnerable trans individuals; they should put an end to this study for good. Participants should be compensated and provided free, responsive, culturally competent mental health care to mitigate any harm caused by the study. We join other LGBTQ advocates in pushing to ensure that no additional members of our community are hurt in this study,” 

Other demands cited by advocates, including NBJC, are listed below:

  • Appoint an ad hoc committee to investigate community expressed concerns pursuant to Policy and Guidance: Complaints, Concerns and Suggestions, and Reports of Undue Influence Regarding the Conduct of Human Participants Research. The committee should include transgender people. The findings and outcomes of their investigation should be made available for public review by April 1, 2021
  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the Internal Review Board that approved the study (Medical IRB 3) with a focus on aligning review with UCLA’s commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Immediately end recruitment for participants of the “Gender identity and own body perception – implications for the neurobiology of gender dysphoria” and the “Visual Mapping of Body Representation in Gender Dysphoria” studies and any other research being conducted by the NIH and UCLA  teams focused on transgender people or gender dysphoria until the review is complete.

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.