Conservative talk show host targets LGBT youth, prompting a bill from TN GOP

Tennessee Republicans say they are working on legislation that would make gender transition treatment illegal for minors, after conservative talk show host Matt Walsh criticized services provided by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Clinic for Transgender Health.

This is the latest push to criminalize gender-affirming care for minors—an issue conservatives have opposed with increasing intensity in recent years.

The Vanderbilt clinic operates in compliance with current state law and professional standards of practice for transgender patients, Vanderbilt officials said in a statement. The statement also responded to Walsh’s claims that the clinic discriminates against employees whose religious beliefs conflict with providing gender-affirming care to transgender patients.

“VUMC requires parental consent to treat a minor patient who is to be seen for issues related to transgender care, and never refuses parental involvement in the care of transgender youth who are under age 18.

Our policies allow employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable, and do not permit discrimination against employees who choose to do so. This includes employees whose personal or religious beliefs do not support gender-affirming care for transgender persons,” Vanderbilt said in a statement.

Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday called for an investigation of the clinic.

“The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns,” Lee said in a statement to The Daily Wire, a conservative blog. “We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain. We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation.”

Lee’s statements are at odds with most of the medical community. The American Pediatric Association has voiced support of gender-affirming care for transgender youth and has been opposed to legislation that would criminalize it. The APA also published a statement against bills that would restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

Sarah Calise, founder and director of Nashville Queer History, submitted this statement to Reckon.

“Vanderbilt University’s medical facilities have been crucial to gender-affirming care in Middle Tennessee as far back as the 1970s. Many of our city’s early drag performers (or “female impersonators” which was the common phrase back then) were actually transgender women in today’s language and understanding.

One such woman was Shawn Luis, who was a popular performer at The Cabaret in the famous Printers Alley. She received gender-affirming care from Vanderbilt in August 1975, undergoing a surgical procedure that totaled nearly 5 hours. Her family was incredibly accepting of her transition. Her mother, Lucy Abrazado, told the Tennessean she knew her child was really a girl from a young age (“Shawn’s Mom Knew He’d Be She,” Tennessean, December 21, 1975). Abrazado said, “We had all expected for sometime that this [Shawn’s transition] would happen...and every time she would talk with us about it we assured her we were all behind her.” Shawn credited the support of her family and friends as critical to her survival. “If not for them, I wouldn’t be sitting here as I am today. They’re the ones who have helped me and seen me through” (“The Rebirth of Shawn Luis,” Tennessean, October 5, 1975).

The latest social science research, particularly a landmark report out of Princeton University this year, confirms that affirming and accepting trans identities of all ages results in better mental and physical health for those individuals. Nashville Queer History values and supports VUMC’s staff (past and present) for creating a more inclusive and loving community, and we condemn the recent hateful and ignorant attacks against VUMC’s LGBTQ Health program.”

Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee issued a statement on Lee’s remarks.

“We’re deeply disturbed by the governor’s choice to stigmatize transgender children and their families and legislators’ calls to introduce legislation restricting trans people’s access to health care. The doctors that provide trans youth with this critical care are saving lives. They support children and their families by allowing them to thrive, and these professionals are nothing short of heroes,” said Henry Seaton, ACLU-TN transgender justice advocate.

“For the trans Tennesseans who see this hateful action and are fearful because of it – know that ACLU-TN will always advocate for the rights of children and families to make informed and safe private medical decisions. It is our priority to save trans lives and keep our trans community members safe.”

The website for the VUMC Clinic for Transgender Health appeared to be offline Thursday afternoon.

Some advocates for transgender youth shared screenshots of violent posts on 4chan, a message board where anti-trans threats are often posted. Some of the screenshots included threats to Vanderbilt doctors and their families.

Matt Walsh began trending on Twitter Wednesday morning when he posted about his “investigation” of the gender transition clinic at Vanderbilt. He reportedly met with state Rep. William Lamberth and state Sen. Jack Johnson.

“.@WilliamLamberth and I are appalled by what @MattWalshBlog uncovered at VUMC. We’re going to do everything we can to stop it,” Johnson tweeted Wednesday.

And conservatives are not just pushing legislation on the state level. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, tweeted Thursday morning encouraging the passage of the “Protect Children’s Innocence Act,” a national bill that would make it a crime to provide gender-affirming care to minors.

“Georgia next! The 118th Congress must pass the Protect Children’s Innocence Act to make it a felony to perform “gender affirming care” on minors. If we don’t some states are going to do the opposite of TN and protect genital mutilation of kids before they are old enough to vote,” Greene said in the tweet.

Anna Beahm

Anna Beahm |

I report on the intersection of religion and sexuality in America. Follow me on Twitter @_AnnaBeahm

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