The largest children’s hospital in New England reported on Wednesday that it is protecting its employees who treat transgender patients from a wave of threats and harassment sparked by conservative influencers’ false and misleading social media remarks.
After receiving “a substantial volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and threatening emails involving threats of violence toward our doctors and staff,” Boston Children’s Hospital said it reached out to police authorities for assistance in protecting its employees and children. The hospital claims the threats started last week after far-right Twitter accounts started spreading false information about the hospital’s transgender services.
The hospital claimed the hatred was aimed at its pioneering Gender Multispecialty Service program for transgender children and young adults. Young people whose gender identity does not correspond to their biological gender are the primary focus of the program’s care.
Boston Children’s said in an email statement, “We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon which they are built.” We are cooperating with law authorities to ensure the safety of our medical staff, patients, families, and the greater Boston Children’s community, and to ensure that those responsible for this act are brought to justice. For the sake of the safety of our people, we shall not relent in our efforts to ensure their security.
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Sgt. Det. John Boyle, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department, said an inquiry has been launched but would not elaborate.
Conservative activists and politicians have made the subject of transgender medical care, especially for transgender youth, a top priority in recent months, increasing their criticism of gender-affirming surgery and counseling and seeking to limit access to such services.
C.P. Hoffman, senior policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in an interview that anti-trans harassment directed at hospitals could discourage trans people from pursuing gender-affirming care. As a result, “individuals and their families going in for gender-affirming care may feel highly threatened,” they warned.
Provide gender-affirming care for young people with gender dysphoria, as advocated for by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other prominent medical organizations. The public has also shifted in support of transgender people having access to gender-affirming health care, according to polls.
Hospital staff and public health officials across the country have been harassed in waves due to their reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, and Boston Children’s is just the latest target of such attacks. In hospitals across the country, local health workers have faced threats, doxing, vandalism, and other types of harassment from angry callers.
After a video from Boston Children’s explaining hysterectomies was shared by the right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok to its 1.3 million followers, the hospital said it began getting threatening threats. The owner of the Twitter account refused to respond.
The post stated that the institution had conducted the procedures on “young girls,” and it was reposted by several high-profile conservatives and retweeted thousands of times. According to Boston Children’s, they don’t do hysterectomies to change a patient’s gender on anyone under the age of 18.
Many subsequent comments attacked the institution for its other gender-affirming services, with some even claiming that pediatricians at Boston Children’s Hospital conducted genital surgery on children. In a response to The Washington Post, the hospital stated that “it does not conduct genital procedures as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18.”
From what I could tell, vaginoplasties (the surgical reconstruction of the vagina) were performed on patients as young as 17, according to a cached version of the Boston Children’s Hospital website. The hospital did say that children as young as 17 might get surgical consultations, but that they needed to be “between 18 and 35 years of age at the time of surgery.” The hospital has changed their webpage to reflect the new policy.
“The false statement that Boston Children’s performs genital surgery on minors in connection with transgender care was the basis for the criticism and the online attention that followed,” the hospital added. For gender-affirming procedures including hysterectomies and other genital surgeries, patients at Boston Children’s must be of legal consenting age. The age of the majority for making health care decisions is defined as 18.
In addition to tweeting about Boston Children’s Hospital’s transgender care, some of the same accounts have been harassing patients at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital and Phoenix Children’s Hospital, all of which provide medical care for transgender children. A tweet urged demonstrations to take place near institutions that “butcher children.”
Assistant professor of communications at the University at Buffalo Yotam Ophir, who specializes in understanding health misinformation, has warned that online harassment campaigns could make it more difficult for patients to access gender-affirming treatment and make doctors less willing to provide it.
Ophir told The Post, “If it leads to so much hostility, if it leads to attacks on personnel, if it leads to threats and harassment, maybe another hospital would just say, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it.'”
Hoffman, of the National Center for Transgender Equality, urged young non-binary and trans patients to seek gender-affirming care despite the difficulties they may face in doing so.
While “coming out” can be intimidating, “I would say that while it can be scary to put oneself out there, especially in times where we’re seeing facilities and trans individuals attacked, the potential joy of being free to live as your true self is worth it.”