The hospital said in an emailed statement Wednesday that its clinicians and staff have been harassed by phone, email and social media, receiving multiple threats of violence.
The threats resumed after false information spread online suggesting the hospital was performing gender-affirming genital surgeries on young children.
Boston Children’s says it provides comprehensive care for children who identify as transgender or non-binary, but surgeries are only performed on consenting adults.
“The age of 18 is used to reflect the standard age of majority for medical decision-making. Boston Children’s does not perform genital surgeries as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18 years old,” the statement read.
“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms and reject the false narrative on which they are based. We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and community from children of Boston at large and hold offenders accountable,” the hospital said. “We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”
The harassment follows a variety of posts from social media users, including Twitter account LibsofTikTok, which shared a series of anti-LGBTQ messages with its 1.3 million followers. In the event, the account uploaded a video of a doctor explaining a hysterectomy on August 11, but young girls and minors were not mentioned.
“Boston Children’s Hospital (@BostonChildrens) now offers ‘gender-affirming hysterectomies’ for young girls,” the post read.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said Wednesday that reports of threats against Boston Children’s were “disturbing to say the least.”
Rollins said his new hotline 1-83-END-H8-NOW got “dozens of calls” and will pursue all leads.
“While freedom of speech is indeed the cornerstone of our great nation, fear, intimidation and threats are not. I will not sit idly by and allow criminal activity motivated by hate to continue in our district,” she said.
What is gender-affirming care?
The Children’s Hospital Association says it also supports health care that is gender-affirming and developmentally appropriate.
“Research shows that gender-affirming care improves the overall health and well-being of children and young people when families and health professionals work together to make health care decisions,” said the association in an email on Wednesday. “We condemn all violence and threats aimed at pediatric patients, their families and medical staff making decisions affecting children’s health.”
Similarities to anti-abortion efforts
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard University’s Cyberlaw Clinic, has been monitoring anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online for years and said she was “shocked but not surprised” that threats followed the message.
“While there are no direct links, there is also this broader atmosphere of increased random acts of violence,” she said.
“When you have accounts with millions of followers amplifying the misinformation that hysterectomies are being performed on ‘young girls’, it’s not so surprising that all of a sudden it becomes the reason people take action and create threats and harassment against hospitals,” Caraballo added.
She said Boston was not the first hospital offering gender-affirming care to experience such harassment, and it won’t be the last.
“I don’t think people understand the magnitude of it,” Carballo said of the threats to the LGBTQ community in general and to clinics that provide such care in particular. “There is a constant drumbeat of homophobia and transphobia and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.”
Caraballo said there may be a specific strategy to target Boston Children’s. The hospital is in Massachusetts, where there are LGBTQ-friendly laws and where it would be nearly impossible to pass legislation banning this type of care.
“So they’ll use this kind of digital vigilance to basically intimidate and shut down these programs through threats and violence. That’s basically a page from the anti-abortion playbook, isn’t it?”
She says some far-right groups have created maps of clinics that provide gender-affirming care to, as one website puts it, “demand justice for victims.”
This site also encourages people to document what clinics do to show “those who harm vulnerable children for profit.”
“In the Crosshairs”
Dr. Scott Hadland, chief of the division of adolescent and young adult medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said he decided to speak out against the harassment.
He does not work for a specific gender-affirming care clinic. But he is gay and works with LGBTQ patients, and he says he has been harassed online because of his social media posts on behalf of the community.
For example, when he tweeted in opposition to a Florida bill limiting what teachers could talk about in class regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, he received “a deluge.” threats and homophobic insults.
One insult he said came up constantly was that he was a pedophile.
“And that hurts, because I’m a father of two young kids and I’m a pediatrician,” Hadland said.
“I think it’s important to advocate for a lot of things. It’s important for us to advocate for the safety of our colleagues, for the health and well-being of young people and their families, and for thoughtful policies to LGBTQ people, and I won’t back down from that,” he said.
“But even just advocating for the care of young people, even when it’s evidence-based, really puts you in the crosshairs. There are times when, for my own personal safety and that of my loved ones, however, I make him deliberately step back from advocacy, and I wish I didn’t have to, but I think it’s necessary.