Boston Children’s Hospital warns staff about online harassment

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Boston Children’s Hospital warns staff about online harassment: After far-right activists on social media began targeting Boston Children’s Hospital with false accusations about its care of young transgender individuals, the hospital issued a warning to its staff and is collaborating with law authorities to address the growing threat.

It’s part of a larger wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has already struck libraries, schools, and even a trans-inclusive Los Angeles spa, and it’s the latest attempt to target hospitals for their work with trans youngsters.

An “increase in threatening and aggressive” phone calls and emails have been sent to the hospital commenting on the treatment of transgender patients, prompting the hospital’s public relations staff to email employees this week with guidance on how to deal with harassment and threats. A current employee confirmed the email to NBC News.

Well-known social media accounts, such as LibsofTikTok, which has frequently promoted “groomer” rhetoric erroneously linking LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, were the first to attack Boston Children’s Hospital in recent weeks. Hospitals have been accused of providing transgender hysterectomies to minors.

Million-plus-follower conservative influencers propagated the same bogus narratives and fueled the flames. Podcaster and supplement vendor David J. Harris is among the right-wing social media stars who have shared the charges online. Chris Elston, better known as “Billboard Chris” for the anti-trans messages he wears on sandwich boards, is another.

Even after being disproved by fact-checking groups last week, several right-wing accounts kept spreading the fraudulent allegations this week.

“In response to commentary last week critical of our Gender Multispecialty Service (GeMS) Program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails, including threats of violence toward our clinicians and staff,” the hospital said in an email statement. Misinformation and a lack of knowledge and respect for our transgender population are fueling attacks on our clinicians and employees, and this greatly concerns us.

“Boston Children’s is thrilled to be home to the first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the United States,” the release continued.

The accounts shared videos from the Boston Minors’ Hospital YouTube channel in which numerous doctors explain treatments provided to trans patients, giving the impression that the Center for Gender Surgery was performing genital procedures on children. Videos, including one titled “What Does It Mean To Be Transgender?,” were taken from the hospital’s channel, but they did not imply that transgender surgery was offered to minors.

According to their website, the Gender Multispecialty Service at Boston Children’s Hospital is the first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the country, and it has helped more than a thousand families. Although Boston Children’s Hospital houses a dedicated Clinic for Gender Surgery, the website for the center states that it only treats “qualified teenagers and young adults.” Users must be 18 or older to undergo any genital surgical procedures, the site states.

It has been confirmed that Twitter is investigating the abuse campaign.

The hospital issued a statement saying the attention “was based on the false notion that Boston Children’s performs genital surgery on minors in connection with transgender care,” which is not true. If a patient wants gender-affirming care, such as a hysterectomy or other genital surgery, they must be legally able to give informed permission before Boston Children’s will execute the procedure. The legal age of consent to medical treatment is set at 18. For patients under the age of 18, Boston Children’s does not offer genital surgery as part of their gender-affirming care.

In spite of this, articles condemning Boston Children’s Hospital immediately went viral, being shared by right-wing media figures like The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh and conservative news outlets like The Post Millennial and The Daily Caller.

The doctors featured in the Boston Children’s Hospital YouTube films were also the targets of anti-trans activists, who descended upon their social media accounts to leave hateful and abusive remarks and a deluge of poor ratings. Some doctors and nurses have since set their profiles to private.

However, this is not the first time that extremists have attacked medical professionals or facilities like Boston Children’s Hospital.

Health Liberation Now, an advocacy organization for transgender people that studies the effects of policy on trans health, has confirmed that the hospital was harassed in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care, echoing a similar wave of harassment that had previously been directed at other medical institutions.

The “initial coordinated network” that “jump launched the clinic demonstrations” is “slowing down a bit” and “more decentralized,” Leveille wrote in an email. There will still be isolated groups here and there, but they will have less in common with the first wave and will be harder to disrupt. There are recently emerged figures like Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok who are promoting the cause.

Brooklyn real estate agent Chaya Raichik (aka @LibsofTikTok) praised a children’s hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, in a June tweet for setting up an information booth at a Pride celebration. In an attack on a Pittsburgh children’s hospital earlier this month, Raichik and conservative activist Christopher Rufo cited a film about puberty suppressants as a justification for their actions. Larger hospital Twitter accounts were the target of waves of harassment.

People responded to a tweet from a Pittsburgh hospital about children with cancer with comments like “Pedophiles” and “We will destroy you.”

There has been a recent uptick in online harassment of groups that support LGBT rights, and one of the latest is hospitals that treat children.

Clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic and LGBTQ+ advocate Alejandra Caraballo said, “They’ve experienced just an utter flood of hatred, occasionally with real, in-person consequences.”

Caraballo mentioned recent arson attacks against LGBT people in Baltimore and Brooklyn as well as widespread threats against Pride events and Drag Queen Story Hour organizers. She also mentioned examples of far-right hate groups showing out to protest and being jailed for inciting violence.

There has been “reinforcing misinformation” for a long time that “LGBTQ individuals are groomers, pedophiles, and threats to children.” Disturbingly, some have even used their transphobia and hatred of trans people to rationalize an attack on a children’s hospital.

Leveille and Ky Schevers, the other co-director of Health Liberation Now, said they feared violence may come next, targeting doctors, patients, and medical facilities that provide gender-affirming care.

Boston Children’s Hospital said it was cooperating with law authorities to secure the safety of its workers.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narrative upon which they are based,” the hospital added in its statement. Together with law enforcement, we are taking measures to ensure the safety of our doctors, employees, patients, families, and the greater Boston Children’s community. We shall keep on using any and all means necessary to safeguard our people.