A British doctor who used social media to defend trans rights could lose his job because of complaints about his posts.
Dr Adrian Harrop, a GP based in Liverpool is currently going through a Medical Practitioners Tribunal hearing regarding his conduct on his Twitter account, which he dedicated to speaking up for trans lives.
The tribunal, which started this week, is expected to run for the next three weeks. It could potentially end with Harrop being suspended or having his name erased from the medical register, making him unable to practise medicine.
Speaking exclusively to VICE World News ahead of the tribunal, Harrop said he believed he was the victim of an "organised and orchestrated" campaign against him by "gender critics," however, he does regret using social media in the way that he did.
"I can achieve so much more by just being a doctor than arguing with anonymous people on Twitter," he explained.
"I shouldn’t have wasted as much time and energy on that toxic platform as I did, but I still believe it is a genuine moral responsibility for privileged people to stand up for trans rights."
The 34-year-old gay man splits his time between working as a GP for a practice in Liverpool, and working for CMAGIC, a gender dysphoria service which was set up by NHS England to cut down the waiting times for trans people who need medical support.
“We look after a huge number of transgender patients," he told VICE World News. "I have well over 100 people who I supervise the medical treatment of, including gender affirming hormone therapy."
While transgender healthcare continues to be debated in the UK, especially when it relates to people under the age of 18, Harrop is on the front line. This, he says, is why he felt the need to be so involved on social media.
“Doctors do have a powerful voice to share, and they should be able to use their voices to bring about positive societal change. What I didn’t realise is that on social media, everyone is under constant scrutiny, including by people who want to go against them in bad faith,” he says.
"The most foolish thing I did was to allow myself to get too drawn into a lot of fragile and vulnerable people arguing with each other."
The General Medical Council's guidance for doctors' use of social media states: "You must make sure that your conduct justifies your patients' trust in you and the public's trust in the profession."
It continues: "You must be prepared to explain and justify your decisions and actions... Serious or persistent failure to follow our guidance that poses a risk to patient safety or public trust in doctors will put your registration at risk."
The tweets in question, which the General Medical Council received "hundreds of complaints" over, involve Harrop fighting back against online bullying, as well as him responding to transphobic statements, and retweeting pro-trans statements.
The witnesses and tweets involved in the case are currently being kept anonymous, but VICE World News was sent all of the material being discussed in the tribunal, including the full dossier of allegations, witness statements, and documents defending the doctor.
"From 10 May 2018 to 23 November 2019 you inappropriately used your Twitter account to post tweets that were offensive and/or insulting and/or inappropriate in nature," reads the charges letter from the General Medical Council.
The letter goes on to list 15 charges against Harrop, all related to people holding "different views" to him "on transgender issues". Among the charges are that Harrop used his Twitter account to “intimidate” critics by revealing information that could identify them.
"I am not transgender myself but I am a fervent supporter of transgender rights," his defence statement reads.
"Strongly held views on both sides were being advocated via social media platforms including Twitter. I engaged in that debate... These sparring matches could be humorous or mischievous or aggressive and antagonistic," he continues.
"A number of individuals and campaign groups whose ultimate aim, I believe, is to undermine, if not erase, the rights of transgender people deliberately chose to follow me on Twitter and to read and respond to many of my tweets," he writes.
"They also made repeated complaints about me," he adds, noting that some of them even "pretended" to be different people in their complaints to his superiors. Some encouraged others to do the same, even posting templates of what to write, and directly linking to his boss' email address.
One woman who led the complaints against Harrop, who claims that the gay doctor bullied her online, tweeted that he is a "sick degenerate", claiming "he and his ilk are a danger to children."
The "journalist and broadcaster" goes on to claim that the work done by UK trans charity Mermaids is "child abuse", and compares the organisation to "The Nazis".
She continued: "If witch burning were still a thing the faggots would be piling up around me." Facing backlash from her followers for using the offensive word, she claimed "it's not meant as an insult to gay people though."
The same woman promoted a petition against "Gay Pride at Disneyland" in summer 2019, claiming "LGBT is not for children". The petition received 105,000 signatures in 24 hours, but the pride parade was not cancelled.
VICE World News has seen further evidence of social media users, some with over half a million Twitter followers, encouraging others to send abuse to Harrop, and to make official complaints against him.
In response to one of his tweets, a user posted a photo of a hand making a gun sign. They then deleted it, saying: "All I did was post a funny gif... Taken out of context I guess it COULD look like a death threat."
A tweet from February 2019 called Harrop "Baby Shipman" – referring to Harold Shipman, a doctor who is believed to be one of the most prolific serial killers in UK history – and a "snivelling shit", before the user claims "Harrop has form. I've reported him to the GMC."
A tweet from July 2021, targeting Harrop, explains to another Twitter user how driving "an extra ONE mph could literally kill someone" and to "think about who you want to run over".
In October 2020, Harrop decided to close his Twitter account.
"The scale and intensity of the abuse, harassment and threats I have been receiving, both on and offline, has stepped up considerably in recent weeks," he wrote at the time.
His tweet continued: "I am going to take a step back from Twitter for the foreseeable future, for the sake of my safety & sanity. I hope that I can just be left in peace".
Harrop has not used Twitter since that day.
A professor who Harrop reported to during his postgraduate training gave a statement to the General Medical Council regarding Harrop's behaviour online. She notes that following receiving "a number of complaints about Dr Harrop's use of social media" she held two meetings with him in 2018 regarding his posts.
"I expressed my concern regarding the style and tone of some of Dr Harrop's tweets and stated that I could understand why some individuals may feel that Dr Harrop was being aggressive," she adds.
Today, Harrop is “deeply sorry” for the negative implications of his tweets, even in the face of extreme abuse, both then and now.
"I never imagined that I would give my regulator cause to investigate my fitness to practise during my career," he says.
Asked how serious this tribunal is, Harrop told VICE World News: "It's extremely serious – it's the most serious thing that can be done to a doctor in this country."
"Ultimately, the tribunal will be deciding whether what I've done and what I've said deems me unfit for practice as a doctor. If that's the case, they could give me a warning, or a suspension. The worst thing that they can do is to strike someone off – effectively erasing them from the medical register – but I think the likelihood of that is virtually nil."
Harrop is aware that some people will not understand why he cares so much about protecting the transgender community when he is not actually transgender himself. He has effectively put his career on the line for what he calls his "moral debt to the trans community."
"I've been out and open about my life since I was at university, about 18 years old," he said. "I learnt early that if you're in a privileged position – which I am as a gay white cis doctor – you need to stand up for people.
"If people hadn’t stood up for the likes of me when we were little, fighting against really intense homophobia, there’s no way we could be so open and loud and proud now. That's ultimately what I felt I was doing when I was doing this, and I tried my best to do that in the most effective and positive way possible.”
It is his long-held belief in equality, and his deep understanding of trans lives, that has led to Harrop being at the tribunal today.
"If it can happen to me on this issue, it could happen to any other doctor, commenting on any other important societal issue,” he warns. “Racism, climate change, whatever. People say things online because they believe they’re right - but if the debate shifts, they may come to regret it."
Asked what he would like to say to the gender critics and transphobes who may read this, Harrop paused for a moment, before calmly and confidently responding, "you will not win".
He continued: "I want them to understand that they make up a small minority of people who have extreme views. Although the battles you’re fighting on social media may seem like you’re winning, you’re not.”
Today, the doctor will start being cross-examined by the General Medical Council’s barrister, based on the evidence and statements that have been collected. Harrop told VICE World News he feels “nervous – as anyone would be in this sort of situation”.
He continued: “Ultimately, I’ve been entirely honest and transparent about everything, and I have nothing to hide. It’s now my opportunity to give my side of the story, and it is a relief to be able to finally get it out there and on the record.”