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Boston Children’s Hospital inundated by harassment campaign over trans health services

“We are deeply concerned by these attacks ... fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”

A child crosses the street behind a Boston Children’s Hospital sign in June. Sophie Park/The New York Times

Boston Children’s Hospital is being inundated by a harassment campaign that the medical provider says was sparked by misinformation about its transgender health program. 

In a statement on Tuesday, the hospital said it has been the target of a “large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails including threats of violence” toward clinicians and staff after commentary critical of the institution’s Gender Multispecialty Service was posted online last week. 

“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 read. 

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The attacks against the hospital started when the conservative Twitter account, LibsofTikTok, posted a range of false information about the services provided by the hospital. 

“The article and online attention that has followed was based on the incorrect statement that Boston Children’s performs hysterectomies on minors in connection with transgender care,” Boston Children’s said in a statement. “For a hysterectomy 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,” the hospital stated. “Boston Children’s does not — and will not — perform a hysterectomy as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18.”

United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins released a statement Wednesday evening condemning the attacks.

“Today’s news about the alleged threats directed at Boston Children’s Hospital transgender health program is disturbing to say the least,” she wrote. “I want to make it clear that the Department of Justice will ensure equal protection of transgender people under the law.”

Rollins credited the District’s new hate speech hotline for producing “dozens” of calls and leads.

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“While free speech is indeed the cornerstone of our great nation, fear, intimidation and threats are not. I will not sit idly by and allow hate-based criminal activity to continue in our District,” she wrote.

Other children’s hospitals are also being targeted, including Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. 

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic who tracks online harassment of children’s hospitals providing gender-affirming care, told The Boston Globe that for months she has been asking Twitter to remove accounts that are leading the targeted campaigns. 

“From a personal perspective, it is absolutely, morally disgusting and reprehensible that people are attacking a children’s hospital,” she told the newspaper.

Caraballo has been chronicling the attacks on Twitter. 

“These people know they can’t ban gender affirming care in states like Massachusetts so they are resorting to digital vigilantism and mob violence to try and intimidate providers and shut down these clinics,” she wrote. “The children having their care disrupted are just collateral to them.”

In the face of the harassment, Boston Children’s reiterated that it is proud to have opened the first pediatric and adolescent trangender health program in the United States. 

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“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon which they are based,” the hospital said. “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.”

Dr. Scott Hadland, a pediatrician and chief of adolescent medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, who is openly gay, wrote on Twitter that doctors and other professionals providing support to LGBTQ youth and their families are increasingly under attack, sharing that he has had death threats mailed to him. 

“This is not the America I believe in,” he wrote. “Stand up against hate.”

Earlier this week, Hadland wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine about how legislation, like Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, targeting education on sexual orientation and gender identity marks professionals (such as doctors and teachers) working with LGBTQ communities for harassment and abuse, particularly if they themselves identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. 

“LGBTQ physicians need our colleagues to stand up as our allies,” he wrote. “Professionals who work with LGBTQ young people, especially those who identify as LGBTQ themselves, are facing serious peril. We have seen the politicization of health care and the vilification of professionals play out before; one need only recall the everyday risk faced by our colleagues who provide abortions to understand how rhetoric can escalate to violence. 

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“And even when we are not the direct recipients of harassment, LGBTQ professionals may be struggling as we see lawmakers scapegoating our community,” he continued. “Many of us survived despite enormous stigma against LGBTQ people during our own youth, and we are hurting as we try to protect a new generation of children and adolescents from the same experiences.”

Hadland reiterated his call for for allies and support on Tuesday, pointing to the attacks on Boston Children’s.

“We need allies now more than ever,” Hadland wrote on Twitter. “We need to be safe to do our work.”