Tennessee GOP urges pediatric clinic to stop providing gender-affirming surgeries

Mark Humphrey

A group of GOP lawmakers in Tennessee sent a letter Wednesday to Vanderbilt University Medical Center calling on the hospital’s Pediatric Transgender Clinic — the only one of its kind in the state — to stop providing gender-affirming surgeries.

In the letter, addressed to the chair of the hospital’s board of directors, state Rep. Jason Zachary and more than 60 of his Republican colleagues say they have been “alarmed by recent reports” that they say describe “surgical mutilations of minor children” at the clinic.

“The Vanderbilt Pediatric Transgender Clinic’s practices qualify as nothing less than abuse,” the letter says.

It’s the latest in a series of reactions, many of which are explicitly transphobic, to a Twitter thread that went viral last week from right-wing pundit Matt Walsh. In the tweets, Walsh said his “investigation” had uncovered that the hospital “drugs, chemically castrates, and performs double mastectomies on minors.” Walsh has a history of anti-LGBTQ activism and hosts a podcast for the far-right blog The Daily Wire.

The day after Walsh published the tweets, Vanderbilt University Medical Center released a statement saying the social media posts and videos misrepresented facts about the care the hospital provides its transgender patients.

The Pediatric Transgender Clinic was opened in 2018 to provide care to transgender individuals, a high-risk population that has been “consistently underserved by the U.S. health system,” the statement says. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, the clinic is the only provider in the state that offers clinical care programs for transgender and gender-expansive children and adolescents.

Research shows that gender-affirming surgery can bring numerous benefits to those who receive it. Those benefits include improved mental health and a decline in suicidal thoughts, according to a Harvard study published in the academic journal JAMA Surgery in 2021.

VUMC said it requires parental consent to treat minors for issues related to transgender care and that employees are allowed to decline to participate in care they find “morally objectionable.”

Walsh also criticized the hospital for enlisting “trans activists.” The clinic’s Trans Buddy Program, to which Walsh was referring, provides peer services, particularly for patients who may have been denied medical care in past, to transgender and gender-nonconforming patients in hopes of increasing their access to care. It has received national acclaim, the VUMC statement says.

“We have been and will continue to be committed to providing family-centered care to all adolescents in compliance with state law and in line with professional practice standards and guidance established by medical specialty societies,” the statement continues.

The lawmakers’ letter gave the hospital 10 days to respond to their demands, many of which assumed Walsh’s allegations were true, despite the hospital’s responses. The letter concluded by saying that the hospital’s response could determine the actions of the state Legislature, which will reconvene in January.

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