Boston Children’s Hospital says it’s under threat after tweets criticizing transgender treatment

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New England’s largest children’s hospital said on Wednesday it repelled a torrent of threats and intimidation against staffers treating transgender patients after conservative influencers attacked them in false and misleading social media posts.

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

The hospital said the vitriol was specifically targeted for its Gender Multispecialty Service program, the first transgender health program for children and adolescents established 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 assigned to them at birth.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms and we reject the false narrative they are based on,” 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 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 matter but declined to comment further.

Medical treatment of transgender people – and in particular the care of transgender youth – has become a common thread for conservative activists and politicians, who in recent months have intensified criticism of gender-affirming surgery and therapy and sought to limit access to such services. .

Anti-transharassment targeting hospitals could deter trans patients from seeking gender-affirming care, CP Hoffman, senior policy advisor at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in an interview. It can “make it very frightening for individuals and their family members who receive gender-affirming care,” they said.

Leading medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support the provision of gender-affirming care for youth experiencing gender dysphoria. Public opinion is also in favor of allowing transgender people to access gender-affirming care, polls.

The threats against Boston Children’s come at a time when hospital staff and public health officials across the country have faced waves of intimidation over their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Angry callers have flooded hospital phone lines and local health workers across the country have struggled 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 Libs of TikTok, which often boosts anti-LGBTQ sentiment, posted a video from the hospital explaining hysterectomies to its 1.3 million followers. The Twitter account holder declined to comment.

Shared by several prominent conservatives and retweeted thousands of times, the post claimed the hospital was performing the surgeries on “young girls.” Boston Children’s said it does not perform gender-confirming hysterectomies on patients under the age of 18.

A flurry of subsequent reports focused on the hospital’s other gender-confirming treatments, with some suggesting Boston Children’s doctors were performing other genital surgeries on children. The hospital said in an email to The Washington Post that it “does not perform genital surgery as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18.”

An archived version of the Boston Children’s website was found to mention that vaginoplasties, the surgical construction of a vagina, were available to 17-year-olds. The hospital said that while patients can receive surgical consultations at the age of 17, they must be “between 18 and 35 years old at the time of surgery”. An updated version of the website reflects that policy, the hospital said.

“The commentary and online attention that followed was based on the erroneous claim that Boston Children’s performs genital surgery on minors related to transgender care,” the hospital said. “For hysterectomies and other genital surgeries performed as part of gender-affirming care, Boston Children’s requires a patient to be able to self-consent. Age 18 is used to represent the default age of consent for medical decision-making.”

Some of the same accounts that posted about Boston Children’s transgender care continued posting intimidating tweets about children’s hospitals in Pittsburgh and Phoenix offering transgender treatments. A tweet called for demonstrations outside hospitals that “slaughter children.”

Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communications at the University at Buffalo who specializes in understanding health disinformation, said online harassment campaigns can make it harder for patients to access gender-affirming treatment — and doctors are 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 intimidation, maybe another hospital would just say, ‘You know, it’s not worth it. .’ ”

Hoffman, of the National Center for Transgender Equality, advised young nonbinary and trans patients to seek gender-affirming care despite the challenges.

“I would say that while it can certainly be scary to put yourself out there, especially in situations where we see facilities and trans individuals being targeted,” they said, “the potential joy of being able to live as your true self is worth the effort worth it.”

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