Death Threats Made to Children's Hospital Over Gender-Affirming Care

·3 min read
Boston Children's Hospital
Boston Children's Hospital

Boston Children's Hospital has faced threats and harassment from an online campaign aimed at doctors and staff caring for transgender children, which prompted the hospital to contact law enforcement and remove doctors' images from its website.

Over the past few days, the hospital has been subjected to a high volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails, including threats of violence against its clinicians and staff, representatives for the facility said in a statement.

"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," the statement said.

Young adults and children receive gender-affirming treatment through the hospital's Gender Multispecialty Service Program.

Among the far right, there has been a rise in misinformation about gender-affirming care, which falsely accuses caregivers of mutilating children.

Despite online allegations, children under 18 cannot undergo genital surgery at Boston Children's. Gender-affirming includes a variety of treatments, all of which begin with prolonged counseling. In addition, patients have access to hormonal therapies and surgery. In some cases, if a child is over 15 years old and has parental consent, they may be able to undergo breast surgery, the Boston Globe reports.

The attacks against the hospital began when far-right provocateur and transphobe Chaya Raichik, who runs the Twitter account LibsOfTikTok, unleashed her more than 1.3 million followers on posting information about the hospital and encouraging anti-LGBTQ+ sympathizers to take aim at the hospital.

Clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic, Alejandra Caraballo, tracks anti-LGBTQ+ hatred online and has called attention to the attacks LibsOfTikTok has inspired.

Caraballo called out the incident as the latest example of far-right-wing actors engaging in stochastic terrorism — using rhetoric that the author knows can lead to real-world actions to achieve the goal of eliminating the target of the subject's ire through violence.

Related: Attacks on the LGBTQ+ Community Amount to Stochastic Terrorism

"In the last 5 days, Libs of Tiktok has tweeted and retweeted 14 posts about Boston Children's Hospital. As a result, BCH providers are being inundated in death threats and harassing calls and emails. It's now affecting their services. This is stochastic terrorism, full stop," Caraballo wrote.

After Raichik had successfully inspired her mob to direct attacks at Boston Children's hospital, the online troll aimed her soldiers at another hospital in Phoenix, as Caraballo pointed out in a tweet to Twitter's safety team.

"@TwitterSafety how many more children's hospitals and their providers need to be threatened before you actually do something?"

Despite LibsOfTikTok almost exclusively appealing to her followers with attacks on the LGBTQ+ community with mis- and disinformation, Twitter has done nothing to curb the acts of terror inspired by the account.

"We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon which they are based," the hospital wrote in its statement. "We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families, and the broader Boston Children's community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people."

For her part, Caraballo is continuing to focus on getting accounts that target marginalized communities online, like LibsOfTikTok de-platformed.

"It is morally reprehensible that anyone would ever attack a Children's Hospital and threaten providers," Caraballo tells The Advocate. "These attacks are the result of a smear campaign by the Libs of Tiktok Twitter account which has pushed false misinformation about gender-affirming care."