Former University of Louisville professor fighting for his professional life in federal court after sharing views on gender

A former college professor who alleges he was demoted, harassed and fired after expressing his views on treatment for youths experiencing gender dysphoria had his day in court last week.

Dr. Allan Josephson, formerly of the University of Louisville, alleges in a lawsuit that his harassment began in 2017 after he participated in a Heritage Foundation panel discussion on treatment approaches for young people struggling with gender dysphoria. When some of his colleagues at the university learned of his comments, they demanded the university discipline him.

Within a few weeks, Dr. Josephson was demoted to the role of junior faculty member. Then, in early 2019, the university did not renew his contract.

Josephson had been head of the university’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology, a nationally recognized program, and had served as an expert witness on the psychology of youth gender dysphoria. 

The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.”

Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a nonprofit legal organization defending issues of free speech, filed a federal lawsuit against the university on Josephson’s behalf, arguing the university’s actions violated his constitutionally protected freedom of speech.  

At a hearing Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, ADF lawyers asked a judge to enter a summary judgment in Josephson’s favor without the need for a trial, which the judge is now considering. 

Logan Spena, Legal Counsel at ADF, spoke to The Lion after the hearing.  

“In this case, our position is that there is undisputed documentary evidence that shows university officials targeted Dr. Josephson and his speech,” Spena said. 

“We think there is a basis for summary judgment, and the judge can pick the winner here without going to a jury trial. The evidence is strongly in favor of Dr. Josephson. University officials can’t hide from liability here.” 

Spena says the case represents an important principle: professors should be able to engage in the marketplace of ideas without repercussions from the government.  

“Treating gender dysphoria is an important public debate,” said Spena. “Dr. Josephson is a well-known psychiatrist and well-respected. He spoke on this critically important issue and offered his opinion on trends in treatment at the time.  

“Treatment for this issue, and how it is viewed socially and scientifically, is a debate that needs to be had, freely and vigorously.” 

Spena says the outcome of the case, which could take months, will send a strong signal on the issue of academic freedom. 

“This case matters for faculty, no matter what their position or opinion is on any matter,” he said. “If Dr. Josephson wins this case, it’s good for everybody. It’s important for free academic debate in our society.”