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

Placeholder while article actions load

New England’s largest pediatric hospital said Wednesday that it was fending off a torrent of threats and harassment targeting staffers who treat transgender patients after conservative influencers attacked them in false and misleading social media posts.

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

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

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon 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 broader Boston Children’s community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”

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

Transgender medical treatment — and particularly care for transgender youths — has become a red-hot issue for conservative activists and politicians, who in recent months have intensified criticism of gender-affirming surgery and therapy, and have sought to curtail access to such services.

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

Leading medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support providing gender-affirming care for young people experiencing gender dysphoria. Public opinion has also tended in favor of allowing transgender people to access gender-affirming care, polling shows.

The threats against Boston Children’s come at a time when hospital workers and public health officials around the country have faced waves of harassment over their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Angry callers have overwhelmed hospital phone lines, and local health workers nationwide have grappled 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 frequently amplifies anti-LGBTQ sentiment, posted a video from 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 conservatives and retweeted thousands of times, claimed that the hospital performed the surgeries on “young girls.” Boston Children’s said it doesn’t perform gender-affirming hysterectomies on any patients under 18.

A flurry of subsequent posts took aim at the hospital’s other gender-affirming treatments, some suggesting that 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 Boston Children’s website appeared to state that vaginoplasties, the surgical construction of a vagina, were available to 17-year-olds. The hospital said that while patients could receive surgical consultations at 17, they must be “between 18 and 35 years of age at the time of surgery.” An updated version of the website reflects that policy, the hospital said.

“The commentary and the online attention that followed was based on the incorrect statement that Boston Children’s performs genital surgeries on minors in connection with 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 capable of consenting for themselves. Age 18 is used to reflect the standard age of majority for medical decision-making.”

Some of the same accounts that posted about Boston Children’s transgender care went on to post harassing tweets about pediatric hospitals in Pittsburgh and Phoenix that offer transgender medical treatment. One tweet called for rallies outside hospitals that “butcher children.”

Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communication at the University of 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 nonbinary and trans patients to seek gender affirming care despite the challenges.

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

Leave a Comment