Three major medical associations on Monday asked the Justice Department to investigate threats being made against children’s hospitals and physicians providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the Children’s Hospital Association urged the department “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.”
Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee (VUMC), and Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio have all recently received social media threats after far-right influencers condemned gender-affirming programs offered by the hospitals and spread misinformation on their practices. This has brought both scrutiny — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, formally called for an investigation into Vanderbilt’s practices — and threats of violence — a local woman was charged with making a fake bomb threat to the Boston Children’s Hospital.
“Whether it’s newborns receiving intensive care, children getting cancer treatments or families accessing compassionate care for their transgender adolescents, all patients seeking treatment deserve to get the care they need without fear for their personal safety,” American Academy of Pediatrics president Moira Szilagyi said in a news release. “We cannot stand by as threats of violence against our members and their patients proliferate with little consequence.”
The Justice Department under Biden has publicly weighed in on state-level fights over transgender rights, through filing friend-of-the-court briefs in discrimination lawsuits and in warning state attorneys general that attempting to block trans youth from gender-affirming care may infringe on the 14th Amendment. In April, the agency put states seeking to block trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care on notice by saying that such actions may violate federal law.
Kellan Baker, executive director and chief learning officer of D.C.-based LGBTQ+ health care provider Whitman-Walker, said hospitals are facing serious threats to the well-being of patients and their families.
“Prohibiting or interfering with providers offering care to these individuals is clearly something that the Department of Justice can and should be interested in, and should take action against,” he said.
Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama who provides gender-affirming care to trans youth in Alabama and surrounding states, said that in her view, much of the vitriol around care for trans youth is fueled by the misperception that surgeries are a standard part of the care.
“Nowhere is it within the standard of care to perform genital surgery for gender affirmation for gender dysphoria on children or minors. That doesn’t happen,” she said. The only surgery for trans youth that can take place under accepted medical guidelines is top surgery for transmasculine minors, which is still rare — and not provided at her clinic.
“It’s my hope that no physician has to undergo threats of fear and intimidation in provision of standard-of-care medicine,” Ladinsky said.
Some trans youth undergo hormone therapy or take puberty blockers as part of their transition, with their parents’ oversight, to alleviate the distress of gender dysphoria and align gender expression with their identity. As detailed in the newest standard of care update from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health — the gold standard for trans health care — more research is being done into the lifelong effects and mental health outcomes of an early transition.
The same groups that wrote the letter to the Justice Department are also urging social media platforms Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to do more to combat disinformation and to enforce user conduct policies.
In a statement, the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ+ organization, also called for social media platforms to take action — in addition to local, state, and federal authorities.
“What starts with a post or a tweet quickly spirals into bomb threats, harassing phone calls, death threats and more, and the pace of it has been relentless,” Jay Brown, the organization’s senior vice president for programs, research and training, said in a statement.
VUMC declined to comment on the letter sent to the DOJ and reiterated from a previous statement — released in response to social media criticism of the center — that parental consent is required for the center to treat transgender minors. The center will provide care to adolescents in compliance with state law, the center said.
The Boston Children’s Hospital and Akron’s Children’s Hospital did not return requests for comment by publication time.