Boston Children’s Hospital warns employees over far-right online harassment campaign
Boston Children’s Hospital has warned employees about mounting threats and is coordinating with law enforcement after far-right activists on social media began targeting the hospital with false claims about its treatment of young transgender people.
It’s the most recent in a series of attempts to target hospitals for their work with trans youth, adding to an ongoing wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has hit libraries, schools and even a trans-inclusive Los Angeles spa.
The public relations office of Boston Children’s Hospital sent an email to employees with guidance on how to respond to harassment and threats earlier this week, citing an “increase of threatening and aggressive” phone calls and emails sent to the hospital commenting on 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 LibsofTikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. One allegation said that the hospital offered gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.
Conservative influencers with millions of followers pushed similar false talking points and fanned the flames further. David J Harris, a podcaster and supplement seller, 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 have spread the allegations online.
Last week, fact-checking organizations debunked the claims from right-wing accounts, but many of the same accounts continued to spread the false 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,” Boston Children’s Hospital said in an emailed statement. “We are deeply concerned by 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 pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the United States,” the statement added.
Videos from the YouTube account of Boston Children’s Hospital in which several physicians discuss services provided to trans patients were shared by the accounts to suggest the Center for Gender Surgery was performing genital surgeries on children. The videos, which have since been removed from the hospital’s channel, included one titled, “What Does It Mean To Be Transgender?” and did not suggest such surgeries were provided to minors.
Boston Children’s Hospital houses the Gender Multispecialty Service, the nation’s first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program, which has treated more than 1,000 families, according to its website. Despite the separate Center for Gender Surgery being within Boston Childrens’ Hospital, treatment is only provided to “eligible adolescents and young adults,” according to the center’s website. “All genital surgeries are only performed on patients age 18 and older,” the site reads.
A representative for Twitter said they were looking into the harassment campaign.
Boston Children’s Hospital said in its statement that the online attention “was based on the incorrect statement that Boston Children’s performs genital surgeries on minors in connection with transgender care. For hysterectomies and other genital surgeries performed as part of gender-affirming care, Boston Children’s requires a patient to be capable of consenting for themselves. Age 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.”
Nevertheless, the posts demonizing Boston Children’s Hospital quickly spread through the far-right media ecosystem, promoted by right-wing media personalities including The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh and conservative websites like The Post Millennial and The Daily Caller.
Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in the YouTube videos from Boston Children’s Hospital, leaving vulgar and harassing comments on their social media accounts and flooding their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital staff have since made their social media profiles private.
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This isn’t the first time that far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical institutions — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.
Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that investigates the effects of policy 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 on medical facilities.
“The original organized network that jump started the clinic protests has been slowing down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said over email. “Local pockets will still operate here and there, but they’re less connected to a central organized push than the original ones. Now we’re seeing new faces rallying the cause — including the likes of Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”
In June, Chaya Raichik, the Brooklyn real estate agent behind the Twitter account LibsofTikTok tweeted about a children’s hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, for hosting an informational booth at a Pride event. Earlier this month, Raichik and right-wing activist Christopher Rufo targeted a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh for its informational video about puberty blockers. The tweets directed waves of harassment to the hospitals’ larger accounts.
Under a tweet from the Pittsburgh hospital about children with cancer, commenters’ replies included, “Pedophiles,” and “We will destroy you.”
The targeting of children’s hospitals is just the most recent in a spate of online abuse aimed at institutions that promote pro-LGBT ideas and events.
“They’ve received just an absolute torrent of abuse, oftentimes, with real, in-person, consequences,” said Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School 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 incitement of violence.
“We’ve already had months and months of this reinforcing propaganda, that LGBTQ people are groomers, that they’re pedophiles, that they are threats to children,” she said. “It’s very disturbing to see people justify attacking a children’s hospital because of their transphobia and their hatred of trans people.”
Leveille and Ky Schevers, the other co-director of Health Liberation Now, said they feared violence could come next, targeting doctors, patients and medical facilities that provide gender-affirming care.
Boston Children’s Hospital said it was 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 upon which they are based,” the hospital said in its statement. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families, and the broader Boston Children’s community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”