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‘This is medical care’: Mayor Michelle Wu reacts to attacks on Boston Children’s Hospital over transgender care

The mayor said Thursday that Boston “has become a little bit of a target” for white supremacist actions and “culture wars.”

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Mayor Michelle Wu. Barry Chin/Boston Globe, File

Mayor Michelle Wu on Thursday reacted to the harassment and threats being leveled at Boston Children’s Hospital, attacks which the institution says began flooding in after misinformation about its transgender health program went viral. 

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“This is medical care,” Wu said during an appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” “This is one of the preeminent, most renowned medical institutions in the country, doing what they do best — which is providing important, necessary care for the health and wellbeing of our community members.” 

The onslaught against the hospital started last week when a conservative Twitter account posted a range of false information about the services provided by the hospital. 

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Since then, the hospital said it has been inundated by “hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails including threats of violence” toward its clinicians and staff.

“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,” the hospital said in a statement earlier this week. “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. 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.”

‘Dangerous, unacceptable, and reprehensible’

The targeting of the hospital has been roundly condemned by local physicians, including the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Dr. Theodore Calianos, president of the medical society, said he supports all efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the harassment directed at Boston Children’s. 

“The Medical Society decries all acts of bigotry, including aggression and threats aimed at patients and families seeking evidence-based, medically appropriate and necessary care and the health care workers who strive to deliver care in a safe and inclusive setting,” he said in a statement. “Actions that disrupt access to health care are dangerous, unacceptable, and reprehensible. These unjust and hateful threats not only contradict the Medical Society’s assertion that health care is a basic human right, but also reflect the harmful effects of the creation and dissemination of misinformation.”

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In response to the attacks on the hospital, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement on Wednesday that she will “ensure equal protection of transgender people under the law.”

“Children deserve an opportunity to thrive and grow as their own authentic selves,” Rollins said in a statement obtained by the Boston Globe. “Parents/guardians and health care providers who support them in that journey should be allowed to do so free of threats and harassment.”

‘We represent what progress looks like’

Wu said during her radio appearance on Thursday that the targeting and harassment of health care providers at the Boston hospital isn’t surprising in today’s political culture.

“We are in an ever more heated, divided, and violent communications environment,” she said.

The mayor noted that when she recently attended a meeting of mayors from across the country, “just about every woman mayor” shared they’d experienced people demonstrating outside their homes or received threats on a regular basis. 

It was a pretty clear pattern, she said.

Since Wu took office, particularly during the early months of her administration, protesters targeted her home in Roslindale for early-morning demonstrations, prompting the proposal and passage of an ordinance to limit the times for pickets outside residences

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The mayor said on “Boston Public Radio” that after the ordinance was passed, limiting picketing between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., the presence of demonstrators outside her home has largely subsided, indicating to her that the original interest was not in protesting during a “reasonable time of day.”

Rather, it was to “harass” her neighbors and the residential community to “make a political point,” she said. 

“We in Boston have a responsibility not just to try to keep moving on the policies and do our work and tackle the big issues, but to help reshape our political system so that, at least locally, there are boundaries and protections for people’s health and mental health and civil discourse in our city,” Wu said on the radio program. 

Host Jim Braude noted that to him it isn’t a coincidence that the harassment and white supremacist activity being seen in Boston is occurring when there’s “not a white guy that is mayor of Boston.” 

Wu agreed that it wasn’t an unreasonable connection to make, pointing out that it’s also about the leadership and the policies that are being put forward across different levels of government, from the mayor’s office to representation in Congress to the U.S. Attorney.

“I think to some folks that feels pretty threatening, like their way of life or their way of supremacy is potentially slipping away, which is first of all just shortsighted, right? We know for a fact that the most benefit, the most progress, the most productivity comes from spaces that are diverse and representative,” Wu said. “That has been proven through research and studies in every setting.”

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But the diversity of Boston’s leadership makes it stand out to those who feel threatened, Wu said.

“Boston has become a little bit of a target in terms of culture wars and white supremacist action because we represent what progress looks like, and how you can pretty quickly incorporate voices from all across our communities and that that makes a difference,” she said. 

During her appearance on the show, Wu also responded to a listener who called into the program, raising concerns that the city’s response to recent neo-Nazi demonstrations by groups like  Patriot Front and NSC 131 only gives attention to the hate groups. 

She said the caller made a “good point,” noting that the goal of the white supremacist groups is to “provoke a response so that they can record a little video for themselves and paint themselves as the victims in the situation, that people yelled at them and that their way of life is under attack.”

Even so, Wu said she and city leaders want to be conscious, take action, and prepare because the ideology of the groups is dangerous. 

“The ideology and the steps [that] are between provoking a response, to taking violent action, to acting out in a major act of domestic terrorism is not that many steps in between,” Wu said. “And we want our residents to be fully protected at all times, not having to deal with the risk that this very dangerous ideology represents to our community members.”

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The mayor said the city is working “very closely” with state and federal law enforcement agencies on the issue. Earlier this month, Rollins launched a hotline where residents can report suspected white supremacist activity or any other form of hate crime.

Wu stressed Thursday that there is a “zero tolerance policy as it stands.” 

“Any line that is crossed, whether it’s a city ordinance around noise or vandalism and putting stickers on poles, we will act on it and our local law enforcement agency partners are prepared and trained to do that,” she said.