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Boston Children’s Hospital targeted by harassment campaign over false claims about trans healthcare

Viral misinformation fuels ‘large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails including threats of violence’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 17 August 2022 19:39 BST
Ron DeSantis claims teachers 'instruct' children to change gender

False statements and misinformation about transgender healthcare have fuelled threats and harassment towards doctors and staff at Boston Children’s Hospital, among the latest targets from right-wing influencers linked to abuse aimed at LGBT+ people, events and institutions.

The hospital has endured “a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails including threats of violence toward our clinicians and staff” following criticism from right-wing activists and influencers alleging that the hospital performs gender-affirming hysterectomies on children under 18 years old, according to a statement from the hospital.

Boston Children’s Hospital is home to the Gender Multispecialty Service, the nation’s first pediatric and adolescent transgender healthcare programme. Only “eligible adolescents and young adults” can receive treatment, and “genital surgeries are only performed on patients age 18 and older”, according to the hospital.

Despite attempts to debunk claims made by influential far-right social media accounts, which have also been tied to the explosion of “groomer” attacks used to falsely smear LGBT+ people and advocates as pedophiles, the claims have persisted across social media.

“We are deeply concerned by these attacks on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community,” according to the hospital’s statement.

“For a hysterectomy performed as part of gender-affirming care, Boston Children’s requires a patient to be capable of consenting for themselves. Age 18 is used to reflect the standard age of majority for medical decision-making,” the hospital stated.

“Boston Children’s does not – and will not – perform a hysterectomy as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18.”

The statement condemns the attacks “in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon which they are based”.

“We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people,” according to the hospital.

According to its website, the hospital asserts that “surgery is never the first step in a gender transition” and is “something that happens after you have already explored social and medical transition options”.

A hysterectomy, a procedure to remove a uterus, is done only in connection with genital surgeries such as phalloplasty and metoidioplasty. Patients must be age 18 or older and have a letter from a medical doctor stating they have “persistent, well-documented, gender dysphoria”, per hospital guidance.

The hospital also requires a letter from a mental health provider to ensure that the patient understands the “procedure and recovery needs, fertility implications of surgery, and risks of surgery”.

The Independent has requested additional comment from the hospital.

Leading medical groups – including the World Professional Association for Transgender Health as well as the American Medical Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, among others – have established and affirmed widely accepted, evidence-based clinical guidelines to treat trans youth, while warning that denying such care will lead to higher rates of suicide, depression and other poor health outcomes.

Recently enacted laws in Alabama and Arkansas outlaw gender-affirming care for minors, and Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration last week barred Medicaid recipients from accessing gender-affirming healthcare, joining at least 10 other states barring medical treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy from coverage under the federal health programme for low-income patients.

The state’s Board of Medicine also is mulling rules that would deny trans youth from receiving such care and forcibly detransition them.

More than a dozen states also have banned trans girls and women from competing in sports.

LGBT+ youth also have disproportionately higher rates of anxiety and depression, largely driven by higher rates of stigma, discrimination and abuse.

Roughly 45 per cent of LGBT+ youth have seriously considered suicide in the last year, including more than half of trans and nonbinary youth, according to The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health. Fourteen per cent of LGBT+ youth have attempted suicide, including nearly one in five trans and nonbinary youth.

Following the hospital’s statement, the president of the American Medical Association condemned state-level “discriminatory actions as dangerous government intrusions into the practice of medicine”.

“Decisions about gender affirming care are properly made through shared decision-making between the patient, family, and physicians, without politicians inserting themselves into the medical exam room or second-guessing healthcare decisions,” according to the statement from Jack Resnick Jr.

“Everyone deserves access to high-quality, evidence-based health care. Transgender children, like all children, have the best chance to thrive when they are supported and can obtain the health care they need.”

Boston Children’s Hospital says it is working with law enforcement to ensure the protection of its staff and their families.

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