Medical groups call on DOJ to investigate threats targeting gender-affirming care

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Story at a glance

  • Leading medical organizations are asking the Department of Justice to investigate a string of recent online attacks against hospitals that provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors.

  • Right-wing commentators and social media users have accused children’s hospitals that provide gender-affirming care of abusing children.

  • Research has shown that access to gender-affirming medical care improves the overall mental health and well-being of transgender people, including transgender youth.

Leading health care organizations in a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Merrick Garland called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate recent threats of violence against physicians, hospitals and families that provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth.

“We write to urge you 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.,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) wrote in the letter.

The organizations collectively represent more than 270,000 physicians and more than 220 children’s hospitals nationwide.

Medical facilities that provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors have recently been the targets of online attacks, and the letter says “a few high profile users” are intentionally spreading false and misleading information.

Conservative commentators including Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh, as well as right-wing social media accounts with large followings like Libs of TikTok, have alleged that doctors are abusing children by prescribing puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones.

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Medical associations on Monday also called on Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to increase efforts to prevent disinformation on their platforms and take “bolder action” when false information is shared about physicians and hospitals.

Boston Children’s Hospital, home to the nation’s first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program, was forced into lockdown last month after an anonymous bomb threat was called in to the hospital. A Massachusetts woman was later arrested in connection with what investigators determined was a hoax bomb threat.

Other hospitals across the country have faced similar threats, reporting that they have received harassing emails, phone calls and protests that have elevated fears among staff, young transgender patients and their families. Some worry that increased threats will deter transgender youth and their families from seeking gender-affirming medical care, which accredited medical associations have said is medically necessary and often life-saving.

Research has also shown that gender-affirming care can improve the mental health and overall well-being of transgender people, including youth. A 2020 Pediatrics study found that access to puberty blockers was associated with lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation among transgender adults – a conclusion supported by additional research from the Williams Institute that found the risk of a past-year suicide attempt was lower among transgender people who wanted and received gender-affirming medical care.

Other studies have indicated that support transgender youth to live according to their gender identity is associated with better mental health and improved feelings of safety.

The AAP, AMA and CHA on Monday said recent attacks against children’s hospitals and pediatric transgender clinics threaten federally protected rights to health care and are “rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation.”

“Attacks against health care institutions that threaten violence, intimidation, and physical harm have left hospitals, staff, and their communities shaken,” the groups wrote. “Providers of evidence-based gender-affirming health care and their colleagues are facing increased stress and fear on top of the conditions they have faced while working on the frontlines of a global pandemic for nearly three years.”

“Our organizations are dedicated to the health and well-being of all children and adolescents,” the groups continued in their letter. “We stand with the physicians, nurses, mental health specialists, and other health care professionals providing evidence-based health care, including gender-affirming care, to children and adolescents.”

The DOJ did not immediately respond to Changing America’s request for comment.

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