Boston Children’s Hospital has warned workers about increasing threats and is coordinating with law enforcement after far-right activists on social media began attacking the hospital with false claims about the treatment of young transgender people.
It’s the latest in a series of attempts to attack hospitals for their work with trans youth, adding to a sustained wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has hit libraries, schools, and even a trans-inclusive Los Angeles spa. .
The Boston Children’s Hospital PR agency earlier this week sent an email to employees with instructions on how to respond to harassment and threats, citing an “increase in threatening and aggressive” phone calls and emails sent to the hospital. were sent with comments about the treatment of transgender patients.” The email was confirmed to NBC News by a current employee.
Boston Children’s Hospital first became the target of activists in recent weeks, when well-followed social media accounts such as LibsoftTikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely associated LGBTQ teachers and parents with pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. An allegation said the hospital offered gender-confirming hysterectomies to children under 18.
Conservative influencers with millions of followers pushed similar false talking points and fanned the flames further. David J Harris, a podcaster and supplement salesman, and single-issue activists, including Chris Elston, who goes by “Billboard Chris” for the anti-trans statements he wears on sandwich boards, are among the right-wing social media stars who are have circulated the allegations online.
Last week, fact-checking organizations debunked the claims of right-wing accounts, but many of the same accounts continued to spread the false allegations this week.
“In response to last week’s criticism of our Gender Multispecialty Service (GeMS) program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large number of hostile Internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails, including threats of violence against our clinicians and staff. Boston Children’s Hospital said in an emailed statement. “We are deeply concerned about these attacks on our clinicians and staff, fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”
“Boston Children’s is proud to be home to the first transgender health program for children and adolescents in the United States,” the statement added.
Videos from the Boston Children’s Hospital YouTube account in which several doctors discuss services to trans patients were shared by the accounts to suggest that the Center for Gender Surgery was performing genital surgery on children. The videos, which have since been removed from the hospital’s channel, include one titled “What does it mean to be transgender?” and did not suggest that such operations be given to minors.
Boston Children’s Hospital is home to the Gender Multispecialty Service, the first transgender health program for children and adolescents, which has treated more than 1,000 families, according to its website. Despite the separate Center for Gender Surgery being located at Boston Childrens Hospital, the treatment is only given to “eligible adolescents and young adults,” according to the center’s website. “All genital surgeries are only performed on patients 18 years and older,” the site reads.
A Twitter representative said they were investigating the harassment campaign.
Boston Children’s Hospital said in its statement that the online attention was “based on the misstatement that Boston Children’s perform genital surgery on minors in connection with transgender care. For hysterectomies and other genital surgeries performed as part of gender-affirming care, Boston Children’s requires that a patient is able to self-consent. Age 18 is used to represent the default age of consent for medical decision-making. Boston Children’s does not perform genital surgery as part of gender-affirming care on a patient under the age of 18.”
Nevertheless, the messages demonizing Boston Children’s Hospital quickly spread through the far-right media ecosystem, promoted by right-wing media personalities, including Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire and conservative websites such as The Post Millennial and The Daily Caller.
Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in Boston Children’s Hospital YouTube videos, posted vulgar and intimidating comments on their social media accounts, and flooded their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital workers have since made their social media profiles private.
This isn’t the first time far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical facilities — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.
Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that examines the effects of policies on trans health, said the hospital was also a target in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care amid a similar wave of targeted harassment at medical facilities.
“The original organized network that started the clinic protests has slowed down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said via email. “Local pockets will still be active here and there, but they are less connected to a central organized push than the original. Now we’re seeing new faces supporting the cause, including Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”
In June, Chaya Raichik, the Brooklyn real estate agent behind the Twitter account LibsoftTikTok, tweeted about a children’s hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, hosting an information booth at a Pride event. Earlier this month, Raichik and right-wing activist Christopher Rufo targeted a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh for his informative video on puberty blockers. The tweets led waves of intimidation to the hospitals’ larger accounts.
Under a tweet from Pittsburgh Hospital about children with cancer, the commentators’ responses include “Pedophiles” and “We will destroy you.”
The targeting of children’s hospitals is just the latest in a wave of online abuse targeting institutions promoting pro-LGBT ideas and events.
“They’ve just received an absolute deluge of abuse, often with real, personal consequences,” said Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic and LGBTQ+ advocate.
Caraballo cited recent anti-LGBT arson attacks in Baltimore and Brooklyn, widespread threats against organizers of Pride events and Drag Queen Story Hours, and instances where far-right hate groups showed up to protest and were arrested for inciting violence.
“We’ve had months and months of this amplifying propaganda that LGBTQ people are groomers, that they are pedophiles, that they are a threat to children,” she said. “It’s very disturbing to see people justify an attack on a children’s hospital because of their transphobia and their hatred of transgender people.”
Leveille and Ky Schevers, the other co-director of Health Liberation Now, said they feared violence could come targeting doctors, patients and medical facilities that provide gender-affirming care.
The Boston Children’s Hospital said it is working with law enforcement to ensure the safety of its staff.
“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms and we reject the false narrative on which they are based,” the hospital said in a statement. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the wider Boston Children community and hold perpetrators accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”