Three major medical groups have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to investigate threats of violence against children’s hospitals and physicians that provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth.
“We write to urge you to investigate the organizations, individuals, and entities coordinating, provoking, and carrying out bomb threats and threats of personal violence against children’s hospitals and physicians across the U.S.,” the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Children’s Hospital Association wrote in the letter.
The organizations, which collectively represent more than 270,000 doctors and more than 220 children’s hospitals nationwide, note in the letter that facilities providing gender-affirming health care to transgender minors have been the targets of online attacks. Those attacks appear to have been inspired by reports, circulated on right-wing media outlets and pushed by conservative influencers like Tucker Carlson, Matt Walsh, and the Libs of TikTok Twitter account, that have accused doctors of abusing or “mutilating” children by prescribing puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones to help them medically transition.
The medical groups note that children’s hospitals have been forced to temporarily go into lockdown due to threats, and that medical staffers who work at hospitals have been harassed and received harassing phone calls, letters, and threats sent to their personal social media accounts, reports Axios.
“These coordinated attacks threat federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families. The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment, and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions,” the medical groups write in their letter.
The groups have also called on Twitter, TikTok and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to increase efforts to prevent disinformation on their platforms and take “bolder action” when false or unverifiable information is shared about physicians and hospitals.
“Attacks against health care institutions that threaten violence, intimidation, and physical harm have left hospitals, staff, and their communities shaken,” the groups wrote. “Providers of evidence-based gender-affirming health care and their colleagues are facing increased stress and fear on top of the conditions they have faced while working on the frontlines of a global pandemic for nearly three years.”
In August, Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to go into lockdown after receiving a threat — eventually found to be false — that there was a bomb in the hospital. A Massachusetts woman believed to be responsible for making that threat was arrested and charged with making the threat.
The hospital also received other threats on social media stemming from articles on right-wing sites alleging that the hospital performs gender confirmation surgeries on minors — even though the hospital’s policy is that such surgeries be delayed until a patient is over 18 and able to legally consent.
Last month, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh also received online threats after a right-wing activist posted a video of one of the doctors explaining the various options for gender-affirming care offered by the hospital.
In Chicago, Lurie Children’s Hospital recently notified families of a support group for transgender youth that the group had been canceled due to threats against the hospital for its gender-affirming care options.
In Tennessee, the Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Clinic for Transgender Health shifted medical appointments to virtual telehealth appointments due to threats made against the clinic following attacks from a far-right podcaster and Republican elected officials in the Volunteer State, reports Nashville NPR affiliate WPLN.
A group of more than 60 Tennessee House Republicans recently penned a letter to Vanderbilt Medical Center asking it to immediately stop performing gender confirmation surgeries on minors, citing social media videos from 2018 and 2020 that show a hospital physician calling gender confirmation surgeries for adults as a “big money maker,” due to the number of follow-up visits required for patients. Those lawmakers also demanded that the hospital, and Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine and School of Nursing allow individuals whose religious beliefs oppose gender-nonconformity to refuse to participate in or prepare rooms for surgeries to which they have moral objections.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center — which previously took down the webpage for its Pediatric Transgender Clinic — has since put the site back online, with a statement from the hospital responding to the charges made against it on social media. That statement reiterates that any procedures require parental consent, and say the clinic “welcomes parental involvement.” It also says it is in accordance with state law and standards for medical care.
The medical center also said social media posts about the clinic “misrepresent facts” about the type of care provided to transgender patients.
Transgender health care has become a hot-button issue in the past year, as Republicans have seized on the issue as a way to rally social conservatives to the polls in an election year. Some states, like Arkansas, have banned gender-affirming care for minors altogether, while other states, like Texas, have launched “child abuse” investigations against parents who are suspected of allowing their child to access puberty blockers and hormones.
Recent studies have suggested that gender-affirming care can improve transgender people’s mental health and overall well-being. According to a 2020 study published in the health journal Pediatrics, the study’s authors found that access to puberty blockers was associated with lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation, , reports The Hill. Similarly, research from the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ think tank run by the UCLA School of Law, found that past-year suicide attempts were lower among transgender individuals who had received gender-affirming care.
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