Children’s hospitals become targets of anti-transgender attacks and harassment

In recent weeks, several children’s hospitals have become targets of far-right attacks and harassment. Anti-transgender activists have been using social media to spread disinformation about gender-affirming medical care. Jay Brown of the Human Rights Campaign joins Stephanie Sy to discuss violent threats made against the staff at Boston Children's Hospital.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In recent weeks, several children's hospitals have become targets of far right attacks and harassment over gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

    Stephanie Sy has the story.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Extremist anti-transgender activists have been using social media to spread disinformation about gender-affirming care, and now the staff at Boston Children's Hospital is receiving violent threats.

    The hospital is one of dozens of facilities that offer trans health care. They become the target of far right influencers and politicians who want to ban these services outright. Despite what one Twitter account with more than a million followers posted, Boston Children's says it does not perform genital surgeries as part of gender-affirming care on patients under the age of 18.

    For more on all of this, I'm joined by Jay Brown. He's the senior vice president of programs, research and training at the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

    Jay Brown, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour."

    What was your reaction to hearing about the threats to Boston Children's Hospital? And what's your sense of how prevalent this hate-mongering is around this issue?

  • Jay Brown, Human Rights Campaign:

    Yes. Well, thank you so much for having me.

    And I wish I could say I was surprised by this. But, unfortunately, we have seen a real rise in this kind of extremism. And this is really just the latest in a well-coordinated effort to divide people and turn people against their LGBTQ neighbors and friends.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    This harassment, Jay, reminds me of the targeting of abortion providers over the years, which led to real violence and murder. We haven't seen that yet here.

    But now you have social media influencers who are reaching millions of people with misinformation. How do we begin to combat that?

  • Jay Brown:

    Yes, we're really worried about what this means for folks' daily lives.

    We're already seeing Proud Boys and other extremists show up at events, Pride parades, at library story hours. And these providers have real reason for concern. We see really hardworking, well-trained medical professionals just doing the job that they are called to do, to follow their ethical duties, and seeing these extremists really mobilize against them, it's very concerning.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Are you advocating that social media platforms take some of these posts down?

  • Jay Brown:

    Yes, we have we have called on social media platforms to be taking aggressive action against these and to be reminded of the real-life consequences of these.

    We may not have seen yet a provider harmed physically, but we know that they are being threatened. We know that we're also seeing — at the time that these threats are increasing, we're seeing an epidemic of violence against the trans community that continues to be historic year after year. So there is a direct tie to our daily lives, to the ability for our community to thrive.

    And the signal that this sends to young people, to their parents, to their to their loved ones is extremely harmful. And we have research showing that the vast majority of LGBTQ young people are being impacted by this kind of vitriol online negatively.

    So these companies need to do more. They need to do more to enforce the policies that they have against hateful actions on their platforms.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jay, Boston Children's Hospital just sent us a statement, saying their focus right now is the safety and security of their staff and patients. They have received a large volume, they say, of these threats.

    And they say the people behind this harassment campaign have a specific agenda to discredit those they disagree with by spreading false information.

    What do you think the real agenda is behind what seems to be a very coordinated campaign?

  • Jay Brown:

    Yes, I think that that's very true. And I would agree with that statement.

    I think, honestly, they have political ambitions. And they have seen that, with a small extremist base, that this kind of fearmongering works. But the reality is, the vast majority of the public is against it. And this is not what they want of their elected officials. It's not what they want of any health care provider, to be interfering with what a patient — is what's best for a patient, what's best for their ability to thrive and medical care.

    So I think this is really an intent to win elections.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And yet these violent threats, does it make it harder for people that are seeking needed gender-affirming medical care? Does it make it harder for them to get that care?

  • Jay Brown:

    These threats do interfere with care.

    When providers — when I have talked to providers who are working in hospitals, who work at these clinics, who do amazing work caring for young people and their families, they — first of all, the vast majority of care they're providing is social-emotional mental health care, which everybody should have be able to agree that children and young people should be able to access.

    It's not — it doesn't have anything to do with surgeries at the young ages. And so that's disinformation, misinformation that continues to spread online intentionally.

    The reality is, instead of being able to talk to their patients about what their daily lives are like, what their struggles are, they're actually having to talk to their patients about what they're seeing online about their lives, about threats from lawmakers and real actions from lawmakers like Abbott in Texas and DeSantis in Florida against their health care, interfering with care.

    So it really does impact LGBTQ young people, trans young people, and nonbinary young people in dramatic ways. And these hospitals should be able to provide more resources to these families, not fewer. Unfortunately, I think their resources are now tied up with trying to make sure that their providers are safe.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Maybe not everybody understands what it's like for somebody to go through a transition like this.

    Could you share with us a little bit about what it was like for you personally, Jay, to face society when you realized that you weren't living in a body that felt true to you? And how important was getting care at that time?

  • Jay Brown:

    Yes, I mean, I wish that I had had the kind of care that is available now.

    Ever since I was a very young — I was very young, and I would I would go to bed at night praying that I would wake up a boy. And I didn't have the language, I didn't have the resources or access to the kind of care that is available now.

    It took years to be able to sort of recognize who I was. There was not a lot of visibility about trans people in the public. And, today, I'm extremely happy. I'm very proud of who I am. The ability to sort of walk through the world authentically as yourself is something that most people take for granted.

    I don't. And I think these young people and their families are really just trying to get that kind of freedom and that kind of sense of authenticity that everybody really deserves. I think that's a shared value.

    Unfortunately, this misinformation and disinformation campaigns that extremists are really actioning against LGBTQ young people, especially trans people, is extremely harmful. And it sort of takes away a lot of the progress that I think these young people have seen over the last couple of years.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jay Brown with the Human Rights Campaign, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour" with your important perspective.

  • Jay Brown:

    Thank you so much for having me and for bringing attention to this issue.

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