Threats and harassment: 24 hospitals targeted for providing gender-affirming care

Healthcare providers in 21 states have been hurt by online harassment campaigns, the Human Rights Campaign said. Some patients and families have been unable to get care.

Bomb threats. Harassment. Disinformation.

Children’s hospitals have experienced all of these in recent months as they seek to provide gender-affirming care.

Between August and November, 24 hospitals and healthcare providers in 21 different states have been targeted in coordinated online harassment campaigns, according to a Dec. 13 report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The group’s researchers said they compiled the information in an “informal exploration” of social media platforms.

Threats and harassment have prevented patients from getting care at institutions such as Boston Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Wisconsin, the report stated. Some doctors have received death threats.

“As threats against the transgender community continue to rise – especially impacting Black, Brown and young transgender people – it is crucial that we look at who are the major players fueling this campaign of hatred,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“This report confirms what we have suspected for some time: these dangerous accounts are playing a major role in causing harm to healthcare providers and patients,” Robinson said. “They are no longer just making the internet an unsafe place for transgender people and allies. The ruthlessness and the vitriol has long ago expanded beyond the confines of the screen to spawn threats of physical harm on people."

Too often, children’s hospitals and providers are suffering under what’s becoming a familiar cycle, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ people.

Accounts such as LibsOfTikTok launch an organized attack campaign, and doctors and hospitals begin receiving threats. In August, the account falsely claimed that Boston Children’s was providing hysterectomies to transgender minors.

Institutions such as Boston Children’s have received bomb threats. Boston Children’s has received three bomb threats in recent months, the report noted. Due to the harassment, Boston Children’s removed some educational resources about gender-affirming care and services from its website, the report said.

Adding to the problem, politicians seize on the false claims and repeat them to score points with constituents, the Human Rights Commission said. Some elected officials are going further.

In some cases, healthcare providers are curbing services due to the threatened loss of funding, the group said. The University of Oklahoma Medical Center stopped some transgender health services for those under 18 after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt threatened to withhold $108 million in aid. Such threats and actions impede care to all families, the group said.

The Human Rights Campaign also released a video featuring Angela Goepferd of Children’s Minnesota, who talked about the attacks and threats aimed at doctors in pediatrics.

“You don’t go into pediatrics really expecting to be attacked for the care that you provide,” Goepferd said.

Health advocacy organizations have urged President Biden’s administration to take action to stop the harassment of children’s hospitals offering gender-affirming care.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and Children’s Hospital Association sent a joint letter in October to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. They urged the attorney general to stop the disturbing rise in threats and violence aimed at doctors, hospitals and families.

“From Boston to Akron to Nashville to Seattle, children's hospitals, academic health systems, and physicians are being targeted and threatened for providing evidence-based health care,” the letter stated. “These attacks have not only made it difficult and dangerous for institutions and practices to provide this care, they have also disrupted many other services to families seeking care.”

In one hospital, a new mother was prevented from being with her preterm infant because the neonatal intensive care unit was on lockdown due to a bomb threat, the health groups said in the letter.

The health groups have also called on social media platforms to stop the spread of misinformation and rhetoric that incites threats of violence aimed at children’s hospitals and physicians. They urged Twitter, TikTok and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, to stop the coordinated spread of disinformation.

The Human Rights Campaign also called on the social media platforms to stop the coordinated harassment campaigns, saying the cycle will continue unless they intervene.

Healthcare advocates have expressed outrage over threats aimed at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and its Massachusetts chapter issued a statement in August condemning “in the strongest terms the ongoing harassment campaign targeting Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and any of our members who provide evidence-based gender-affirming care at medical institutions across the state.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics says gender-affirming care fills a vital need.

“Gender-affirming care is crucial – and often lifesaving – to young people who need it. Contrary to the disinformation being spread online, such care is conducted in an age-appropriate manner in consultation with families and multiple specialists. Gender-affirming care is evidence-based and is supported by every mainstream medical organization,” the AAP said in the statement.

The American Medical Association sent a letter to the nation’s governors last year urging them to reject legislation that would outlaw medically necessary gender transition-related care for minor patients.