A student walks past a Cardinal logo on the University of Louisville campus. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This post has been updated with additional comments from Travis Barham. 

A federal lawsuit asserts that a University of Louisville professor was effectively fired after making transphobic comments as an expert witness and panelist.

The suit, filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Allan Josephson, asserts that UofL officials discriminated against Josephson for his “conservative” stances, breaching his First Amendment rights. Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative nonprofit that advocates for Christian beliefs, and is considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A UofL spokesman confirmed Josephson is employed as a professor in the division he initially led and works at UofL Physicians’ Bingham Clinic, which provides psychiatric treatments to children. UofL does not comment on pending litigation. Lawsuits only present one side of the situation.

As the former chief of UofL’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology, Josephson routinely acted as an expert witness and spoke on panels in his position, the suit says. Often, he was asked to talk about youth experiencing gender dysphoria — when a person’s gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth.

By 2014, he had become “concerned that the poorly supported, new treatments” for those with gender dysphoria didn’t “serve their long-term health interests,” the suit says. Using the bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, can lead to “harmful psychological effects” for the students themselves and their peers, Josephson wrote in a paper mentioned in the suit.

A panel hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, focused on youth experiencing gender dysphoria in fall 2017. On the panel, Josephson said that “the notion that gender identity should trump … reproductive organs, external genitalia … is counter to medical science.”

“Transgender ideology neglects the child’s need for developing coping and problem-solving skills necessary to meet developmental challenges,” the suit recounts Josephson’s remarks in the panel.

When children approach their parents about their gender identity, Josephson said parents should “resist these demands.”

“After empathetically listening to their child, parents should use their collective wisdom in guiding their child to align with his or her biological sex,” the suit said.

According to the suit, staff of UofL’s LGBT center found out about Josephson’s remarks soon after, allegedly asking a professor in his division to discipline him. The suit further asserts that the center’s former director, Brian Buford, said that Josephson “refutes the existence of transgender identity” and that he was “in direct conflict with the spirit of the ally campaign” when Josephson requested a rainbow sticker to show his support for LGBT causes.

A majority of Josephson’s division “did not disagree” with his stances at the time, the suit says. A majority also did not want him to be demoted, it adds.

In late 2017, according to the suit, the Department of Pediatrics Chairman Charles Woods demoted Josephson to a professor position, allegedly saying his remarks on gender dysphoria did not align with official UofL curriculum on the topic. There is no official curriculum regarding gender dysphoria, the suit asserts.

A year later, UofL said that it would not renew Josephson’s contract at the end of June, effectively firing him, the suit contends. No evaluation was shared with Josephson; instead, administrators said they were taking the division in a “different direction.”

UofL “took all these retaliatory actions with an eye to ensuring that neither he nor anyone else dares to express viewpoints they find objectionable on medical and psychiatric issues,” the suit asserts. In all situations, Josephson spoke in his personal capacity and did not represent UofL, the suit says.

Multiple UofL administrators, including the president Neeli Bendapudi, the medical school dean Toni Ganzel and the former interim president Greg Postel, are named in the suit.

“Public universities have no business demoting or firing professors simply because they hold a different view than their colleagues or the administration, but that’s exactly what’s happened here,” ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham said in a news release. 

In a phone interview Friday, Barham said he doesn’t believe Josephson’s comments are transphobic. The professor was asked to provide his medical opinion on the best treatment for children experiencing gender dysphoria, and he did.

“Tolerance is supposed to be a two-way street,” Barham said. Everyone gets to express their views, he added, without the government putting its “thumb on the scale.”

Josephson has worked with ADF in the past, according to the suit. In 2014 and 2015, he “consulted” with the organization on multiple cases involving kids wanting to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

UofL’s diversity statement stresses the importance of inclusivity and diversity on campus, including that of political ideology and thought. Gender and sexual orientation are both protected — gender identity is not mentioned specifically.

“The University of Louisville strives to foster and sustain an environment of inclusiveness that empowers us all to achieve our highest potential without fear of prejudice or bias,” the statement reads.