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Sarah Platkin | November 10, 2022

TW: Mentions of Transphobia

On August 24, 2022, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) opened up a transgender health clinic. The center had been planning to open the clinic for the past two years. In addition to surgery, VUMC’s transgender health clinic aims to provide a multidisciplinary approach to transgender care, such as hormonal treatments. 

Soon after VUMC opened the center, however, Republican Tennessee State Representative Jason Zackary requested VUMC to stop gender affirming surgeries for minors permanently, even though the American Medical Association has reaffirmed that gender affirming care is completely appropriate for children. Due to this backlash from Zackary and other Republican politicians and reporters, Vanderbilt suspended gender affirming surgery for minors on October 9, 2022. The review of the clinic’s policies and services may take months, but Vanderbilt University Medical Center has yet to release a final decision on this matter. 

VUMC receives public backlash

Right-wing politicians and reporters were quick to shame Vanderbilt for this new transgender clinic. Tucker Carlson, a Fox News political analyst, claimed that Vanderbilt was only interested in profits and that “one day [people]’ll look back in shame and horror” on Vanderbilt’s actions. Carlson went on to assert that there was no data to justify VUMC’s provision of gender affirming care. Additionally, Carlson disparaged the clinic’s support for Trans Buddies—an advocate group for patients to help them find resources, support and ensure medical providers are using their correct pronouns. 

Carlson’s discourse on the clinic incited hate speech and dangerous behavior among his wide audience. Matt Walsh, a political commentator, posted about the VUMC clinic and received countless responses promoting hateful sentiments against the LGBTQI+ community. His original tweet was as follows, “They now castrate, sterilize and mutilate minors as well as adults, while apparently taking steps to hide this activity from the public view. This is what ‘health care’ has become in modern America.” 

Individuals on the thread compared treating gender dysmorphia to giving anorexic patients diet pills, and to supernatural fantasies. A healthcare worker stated that these are the “dark ages of healthcare.” Additionally, Alejandra Caraballo, a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, posted an expose on twitter of threats posted on 4chan, an anonymous online bulletin board. One user said that the clinic’s doctors’ families should be killed while the doctors are watching. Another user called for the burning of all books relating to gender. These disturbing comments barely scratched the surface of the hatred people harbor against gender-affirming care, however. Unfortunately, the number of online platforms available to these people makes it easy for them to promote transphobia, hatred, and even violence.

Similar public backlash has been received by other hospitals

The backlash that VUMC has received for providing healthcare to transgender individuals is not uncommon. Despite their location in one of the most politically liberal states, Boston Children’s Hospital has received multiple threats to their transgender care unit. In late August, Boston Children’s Hospital reported threats and targeted harassments towards doctors who worked in their transgender care unit. On October 24, 2022, MassLive reported on another bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hopsital. Unsurprisingly, Tucker Carlson claimed that hospitals receiving these bomb threats were “playing the victim.”

Harm to the community

Comments and threats from the likes of Tucker Carlson menace an individual’s personal safety as well as harm gender-affirming care recipients’ mental health and feeling of belonging. Stigmitization and discrimination of transgender individuals is considered an environmental stressor that can further exacerbate anxiety and mental health conditions associated with transitioning. Transgender individuals often have higher rates of mental illness, as they are four times more likely to face mental health issues and nine times as likely to attempt suicide. Half of transgender youths have seriously considered suicide and two-thirds of transgender youth have reported depression symptoms. The U.S transgender survey and the 2019 Trevor Project National Survey produced results that further confirmed this data. There is no doubt that Tucker Carlson’s comments, along with similar reporter’s comments and bomb threats, are not only harmful to the physical safety, but also the emotional safety of transgender individuals. 

Vanderbilt’s response

All students and Vanderbilt staff have reasons to be concerned about the safety of their LGBTQI+ peers. The Vanderbilt administration has been supportive of the LGBTQI+ community and VUMC’s efforts to maintain the clinic. However, Vanderbilt has not taken much action on this particular issue as Vanderbilt University Medical Center is legally a separate entity from the undergraduate university. On September 23, 2022, Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and C. Cybele Raver, the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, sent out an email addressing the news to the Vanderbilt community. The letter emphasized the school’s support for the LGBTQI+ community as well as the fact that VUMC is a separate entity from the university. The letter additionally included campus mental health resources and public safety tools for students who might find themselves threatened.