Doctors treating transgender teens fear for their lives amid political divide, report reveals

BOSTON — A growing number of doctors who treat transgender and gender-diverse teenagers are increasingly fearful for their own safety and their ability to offer specialized care, according to a new study. These concerns are rising as divisive politics and legislation aim to ban medical treatments meant to assist young people in transitioning to the gender with which they identify.

The study focuses on pediatric endocrinologists — doctors specializing in hormone-related disorders in children and adolescents, like diabetes or growth issues. In addition to these services, some pediatric endocrinologists also offer gender-affirming care, which includes medical treatments that help transgender teens transition.

In the United States, 1.4 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds identify as transgender, and many are seeking this type of medical assistance, known as gender-affirming care. Major medical organizations, including the Endocrine Society, consider such care the standard treatment for transgender youth. The Society says gender-affirming care has been shown to improve mental health outcomes and lower the risk of suicide in transgender youth.

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According to a Human Rights Campaign report, efforts to ban gender-affirming care have led to widespread misinformation, online harassment, and even bomb threats against hospitals and physicians. (Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels)

However, legislation that aims to ban these gender-affirming treatments has been proposed in 28 states and has become law in 20 states. These bans have led to a concerning wave of misinformation, online harassment, and even bomb threats against medical facilities and doctors providing these services, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign.

“Our study shows pediatric endocrinologists in states with transgender health bans are most concerned about threats to their personal safety and the impact of these laws on their medical practice,” says study author Stephanie A. Roberts, M.D. of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in a media release.

Researchers further warn that these bans could have a ripple effect, affecting access to other critical pediatric endocrine treatments.

“The increasing number of bans on gender-affirming care in the U.S. and the negative impact on pediatric endocrinologists may lead to areas in the country without access to pediatric endocrine care,” says Roberts. “This includes for access to treatment of other disorders we have expertise in besides gender-affirming care such as Type 1 diabetes or adrenal insufficiency, both of which can be life-threatening conditions.”

The study surveyed 223 pediatric endocrinologists to assess how these bans are impacting their practices. Notably, 56 percent of those surveyed were already providing gender-affirming care, while 46 percent practiced in states where legislation aimed at banning such care was proposed or enacted between January 2021 and June 2022.

For medical professionals in states with transgender health bans, the concerns are numerous. These range from internal pressures within their hospitals that could limit their ability to provide care to fears of legal repercussions and threats to their personal safety and that of their patients.

“Our work reinforces why efforts to limit access to medically necessary care for transgender youth need to be opposed,” Roberts concludes.

The study received funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The findings are published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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