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Anti-transgender rhetoric by right-wing sources is a primary motivator of attacks on gender-affirming care for young people and the hospitals that provide it, says a new report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
The foundation -- the educational arm of HRC -- released the report, "Online Harassment, Offline Violence: Unchecked Harassment of Gender-Affirming Care Providers and Children's Hospitals on Social Media, and its Offline Violent Consequences," Tuesday.
"Social media posts from accounts like Libs of TikTok and Matt Walsh kick off a cycle of harassment and stigma, with the ultimate goal of inciting violence and shutting down access to lifesaving and medically necessary gender affirming care," the report says.
Foundation researchers identified online harassment campaigns against 24 different hospitals and health care providers across 21 states between August and November alone. Some of the highest-profile attacks were on Boston Children's Hospital.
"Following a series of social media posts from right-wing provocateur Libs of TikTok that claimed Boston Children's Hospital's (BCH) Gender was performing hysterectomies on minors and thus the hospital 'needs to be shut down,' BCH has received three separate bomb threats, forcing temporary lockdowns and evacuations," the report notes. "The most recent bomb threat, from November 16th, specifically targeted BCH's gender affirming care clinic, as well as individual physicians, claiming bombs had been placed in both the clinics and three doctors' homes."
"One investigative report from October found that 20 different children's hospitals had been named and targeted in online harassment campaigns in recent months, forcing 17 to remove or alter resources and content from their websites on gender-affirming care services," the document continues. "Five additional hospitals who had not been specifically targeted also chose to remove or alter information. Several hospitals and clinics have had to halt services or shut down altogether."
Incidents of harassment have occurred throughout the nation, including at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Wisconsin. For instance, in September, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti called for an investigation into Vanderbilt University's Transgender Health Clinic just 24 hours after Matt Walsh, a far-right ideologue who works for The Daily Wire, tweeted that the clinic would "castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors." Vanderbilt health providers also received death threats, according to the report.
Anti-trans and generally anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric didn't let up even after the November mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. Jaimee Michell, founder of anti-trans group Gays Against Groomers, appeared on Tucker Carlson's Fox News Channel show and suggested that shootings like the one at Club Q would continue until the "evil agenda" of gender-affirming health care was put to an end.
Anti-LGBTQ+ social media posts are likely to multiply now that Elon Musk has taken over Twitter, the foundation predicts. "Already, the frequency of tweets using anti-LGBTQ+ slurs on Twitter is up by around 60%," the report notes.
"As threats against the transgender community continue to rise -- especially impacting Black, Brown and young transgender people -- it is crucial that we look at who are the major players fueling this campaign of hatred," HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a press release. "This report confirms what we have suspected for some time: these dangerous accounts are playing a major role in causing harm to healthcare providers and patients. They are no longer just making the internet an unsafe place for transgender people and allies. The ruthlessness and the vitriol has long ago expanded beyond the confines of the screen to spawn threats of physical harm on people."
"Given the rise in coordinated hate speech, and the real-world violence it is engendering against doctors, hospitals, and the LGBTQ+ community at large, it is necessary for everyone -- not just social media platforms -- to work to stop this cycle of disinformation, violence and hate," the report points out. "Pro-equality politicians and LGBTQ+ allies alike need to speak out, and push for policies both online and offline that forcefully fight back against the tide of extremism."
Along with the report, the HRC Foundation released a video featuring Dr. Angela Goepferd, a Minnesota pediatrician, discussing what gender-affirming care for children does and doesn't include, and how pediatricians never expected to be attacked for providing appropriate care.