BOSTON — As the health and safety of trans and queer youth are jeopardized across the country, there were a few minutes of hope on Wednesday in Boston when Adm. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services and first transgender federal official confirmed by the U.S. Senate, visited the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ+ Youth.
Levine, who grew up in nearby Wakefield, Mass. toured the facility and spoke with staff and youth leaders of the local social support organization and clinic. At multiple sites across the state, BAGLY provides queer youth with a place to both give and receive support for their physical, social, and developmental needs.
Here’s what Levine had to say about some of the major issues facing the community today.
How hospitals should respond to harassment regarding gender-inclusive care
As part of her trip to Massachusetts, Levine did grand rounds at hospitals in the state. As many facilities across the country face harassment, including death threats to providers who offer gender-affirmative care, Levine told physicians “to highlight the importance of the work that they are doing for vulnerable, transgender and gender diverse children and their families, and to continue to do that work and to keep the faith.”
STAT previously reported that online harassment and threats have prompted some hospitals to remove or edit information on their websites about the gender-affirmative services they provide. Levine noted that the children’s hospitals facing such attacks are the same places currently being overwhelmed with a surge of respiratory syncytial virus cases.
“Hospitals that are facing these egregious threats should stay strong and take whatever precautions they need to take to protect themselves,” Levine said.
When medical boards get political
Last week, Florida’s board of medicine voted to begin drafting legislation that will ban gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or surgery for transgender minors in the state. It’s an alarming move that goes against professional medical organizations’ guidance and against a breadth of research.
“This is the first time I have seen a medical board weaponized against medical providers that are providing evidence-based, standard of care treatment,” Levine said.
Levine, who served on the medical board of Pennsylvania when she was the state’s physician general, sees the Florida board’s decision as a “unique and unprecedented situation” that does not call for added accountability on the power that medical boards hold.
On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that members of the medical board have donated over $80,000 to Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has long pushed efforts to restrict transgender rights.
How the federal government will work to protect queer youth
While Massachusetts is seen as a generally trans-friendly state, BAGLY executive director Grace Sterling Stowell noted that young people often come to the center and ask if what’s happening in Florida could possibly happen here.
Levine offered some assurance: “Our community is supported at the highest levels,” she said. In June, President Biden signed an executive order to support LGBTQI+ communities. The administration has also proposed a change to the nondiscrimination section of the Affordable Care Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Levine, who has visited hospitals and clinics providing gender-affirming care across the country to advocate for the importance of the services, believes that pundits and politicians are targeting trans youth as a wedge issue for the upcoming election along with reproductive rights.
“You can see a pattern here in terms of the attacks on rights,” she said. “I really reject the language that the opposition is using. I reject their terminology. I reject their ideology.”