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Congressional leaders urge DOJ action after threats against Boston Children’s Hospital

A trans rights activist stood outside of Boston Children’s Hospital to face off with anti-trans protesters across the street on Sept. 18.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

After weeks of threats to pediatric institutions that provide gender-affirming care to patients, including two bomb threats to Boston Children’s Hospital last week, dozens of congressional leaders are urging the Department of Justice to act.

In a letter sent Friday — led by Representatives Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Philadelphia’s Dwight Evans, and D.C.’s Eleanor Holmes Norton, and signed by 33 other members of Congress — officials called for the DOJ to detail the steps it is taking to improve safety for children’s hospitals and investigate those that threaten them. The letter also asked that the DOJ provide an update on how it is monitoring online calls for anti-trans violence and holding platforms that host such discourse accountable.

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Congressional members additionally asked if the department would consult with trans-led organizations to help transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals who have been targeted, and asked what steps the department was taking to prevent future threats.

“Our trans youth deserve to receive essential, life-saving, gender-affirming health care and our medical personnel should be able to provide it without fear of being attacked,” said Pressley, in a statement. “From the brutal nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs this weekend to the latest bomb threat against Boston Children’s just last week, anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ violence is on the rise and must be taken seriously. That’s why we’re calling on the DOJ to immediately step up efforts to help keep health care providers, patients, and community members safe.”

In 2007, Boston Children’s founded the first major program in the United States to focus on gender-diverse and transgender adolescents, providing care to kids whose gender does not conform to the sex assigned to them at birth. The program, called the Gender Multispecialty Service, has since expanded to treat patients between the ages of 3 and 25.

Yet transgender care has become increasingly politicized, and several states have proposed legislation to restrict such care for young people. Vitriolic attacks against transgender individuals and providers who care for them have sprung up online.

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Such campaigns falsely equate transgender care with abusing minors as part of a political agenda. In fact, transgender care includes everything from psychological and social support to hormonal therapy and, in some cases, surgery. Children’s offers breast surgery for some trans children as young as 15 and genital surgery for some patients 18 and older.

In August, a TikTok account known for posting derogatory content about the LGBTQ+ community published false accusations against Boston Children’s Hospital and the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., which elicited a torrent of threats and harassment against hospital staffers. In September, a Westfield woman was charged in connection with a bomb threat received at Children’s later in August.

Another threat was called in to the hospital on Sept. 9, prompting the arrest of a Canadian man. The hospital also faced a handful of anti-trans protesters and hundreds of counter demonstrators in mid-September. Two more bomb threats against the hospital came on Nov. 16 and 17, but were cleared by security. Clinicians and other hospital staff have also been subject to a near -constant barrage of non-specific threats of violence.

In their letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, members of Congress noted that other institutions have also been forced to enhance security in light of threats, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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Pediatric groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Children’s Hospital Association have already urged the Department of Justice to investigate the entities coordinating and provoking such threats. In their letter, the members of Congress reiterated the concerns laid out by those groups, and said the department should consider them as it implements policies to counter threats.

Such action would come in addition to work the Department of Justice has done to reinforce federal nondiscrimination protections. In March, the Department sent a letter to all state attorneys generals reminding them that laws that prevent individuals from receiving gender-affirming medical care may infringe on constitutional protections.

Federal prosecutors have already voiced a desire to protect transgender youth. Massachusetts US Attorney Rachel Rollins, in seeking charges against the woman who allegedly made a threat against Children’s, said “health care providers who support and offer care to gender-diverse and transgender individuals and their families deserve to do so without fear.”


Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.bartlett@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByJessBartlett.