Boston Children’s Hospital says it faces threats after tweets criticizing transgender treatment

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New England’s largest children’s hospital said on Wednesday it was fending off a torrent of threats and harassment targeting staff members who treat transgender patients after conservative influencers attacked them in false and misleading posts about social networks.

Boston Children’s Hospital said it asked law enforcement to help protect its employees and patients after facing “a large amount of hostile internet activity, harassing phone calls and emails, including including threats of violence against our clinicians and staff.” He said the threats began last week after popular far-right Twitter accounts circulated what the hospital called misinformation about its transgender care.

The hospital said the vitriol was specifically for its Gender Multispecialty Service program, the first established pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the United States. The program specializes in treating young people with gender dysphoria, the condition in which a person’s gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms and reject the false narrative on which they are based,” Boston Children’s said in an emailed statement. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the wider Boston children’s community and hold offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people. »

A Boston Police Department spokesman, Sgt. Det. John Boyle said police have opened an investigation into the case, but declined to comment further.

The medical treatment of transgender people – and in particular the care of young transgender people – has become a burning issue for activists and conservative politicians, who in recent months have intensified criticism surgery and gender-affirming therapy, and have sought to limit access at such services.

Anti-trans harassment targeting hospitals could deter trans patients from seeking gender-affirming care, CP Hoffman, senior policy adviser at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in an interview. This could “make things very scary for people and their family members seeking gender-affirming care”, they said.

Leading medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support the provision of gender-affirming care for young people with gender dysphoria. Public opinion also tends to allow transgender people to access gender-affirming care, surveys.

The threats against Boston Children’s come at a time when hospital workers and public health officials across the country have faced waves of harassment over their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Angry callers have overwhelmed hospital phone linesand local health workers across the country have been grappling with threats, doxing, vandalism and other forms of harassment.

Boston Children’s said it started receiving the threatening messages after the right-wing Twitter account TikTok Libs, which frequently amplifies anti-LGBTQ sentiment, posted a video of the hospital explaining hysterectomies to its 1.3 million followers. The Twitter account holder declined to comment.

The post, which was shared by several prominent curators and retweeted thousands of times, claimed the hospital performed the surgeries on “young girls”. Boston Children’s said it does not perform gender-affirming hysterectomies on patients under 18.

A flurry of later posts took aim at the hospital’s other gender-affirming treatments, with some suggesting Boston Children’s doctors performed other genital surgeries on children. The hospital said in an email to The Washington Post that it “does not perform genital surgeries as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18.”

An archived version of the Boston Children’s website appears to indicate that vaginoplasties, the surgical construction of a vagina, are available to 17-year-olds. The hospital said that if patients could receive surgical consultations at age 17, they had to be “between 18 and 35 at the time of surgery”. An updated version of the website reflects that policy, the hospital said.

“The comment and subsequent online attention was based on the incorrect statement that Boston Children’s performs genital surgeries on minors in transgender care,” the hospital said. “For hysterectomies and other genital surgeries performed as part of gender-affirming care, Boston Children’s requires that a patient be capable of self-consent. Age 18 is used to reflect the standard age of the majority for medical decision-making.

Some of the same accounts that posted about Boston Children’s transgender care then posted harassing tweets about children’s hospitals in Pittsburgh and Phoenix offering transgender medical treatment. One tweet called for rallies outside hospitals to “slaughter children”.

Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communication at the University at Buffalo who specializes in understanding health misinformation, said online harassment campaigns could make it harder for patients to access gender-affirming treatment – and make doctors less willing to provide it.

“If it leads to so much negativity,” Ophir told the Post, “if it leads to attacks on staff, 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, advised young non-binary and trans patients to seek gender-affirming care despite the challenges.

“I would say that while it can be scary to show up, especially in situations where we see facilities and trans people being targeted,” they said, “the potential joy of being able to live like yourself is worth the bother this.”

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