Weaponizing 'Whistleblowing' To Shut Down Medical Care For Transgender Youth
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To further their nationwide efforts to restrict access to transgender health care, Republicans in the state of Missouri have deployed a former case worker at Washington University’s Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, who they claim is a whistleblower.
On February 9, Jamie Reed went public with allegations against the pediatric center in a post that appeared on "The Free Press," a website founded by commentator Bari Weiss. That same day Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced that Reed had submitted a “sworn affidavit” and his office, along with the Missouri Department of Social Services, had opened an investigation into the pediatric center.
“We have received disturbing allegations that individuals at the Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital have been harming hundreds of children each year, including by using experimental drugs on them,” Bailey asserted. “We take this evidence seriously and are thoroughly investigating to make sure children are not harmed by individuals who may be more concerned with a radical social agenda than the health of children.”
Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley was ready with a letter that he sent to Washington University and the St. Louis Children's Hospital, where he announced that his office would investigate the pediatric center's "treatment practices in order to present American taxpayers and parents with all the facts relevant to policymaking and medical treatment decisions."
"If even a fraction of the whistleblower’s new allegations is corroborated, the Center should be immediately shut down," Hawley declared.
Bailey followed his announcement with a letter to the president of St. Louis Children’s Hospital on February 10 that urged the institution to ban the prescription of “puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to any new patients.” (The hospital also launched their own inquiry.)
Yet as Bailey acknowledged, Reed’s affidavit was submitted two weeks before Reed went public with her allegations at "The Free Press." That gave Reed and Republicans time to figure out how best to weaponize the allegations against transgender care in general.
Reed is represented by Vernadette Broyles, a notorious anti-trans attorney with the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, and Ernie Trakas, a Republican St. Louis County council member who also serves as a senior litigation counsel for CPRC.
Going After Medicaid Coverage For Transgender Care
Bailey, Broyles, Hawley, Trakas, and Weiss are involved in a calculated effort to exploit the goodwill that is typically generated from whistleblowing in order to help conservative religious extremists notch another victory in their culture war against transgender people.
Most significantly, the whistleblower complaint incorporates some of the language found in successful lawsuits under the False Claims Act that are aimed at holding health care companies for Medicaid fraud.
Reed asserted that from 2020 to 2022 “medical transition” procedures were “paid for mostly by private insurance,” but it was also her understanding the pediatric center had “billed the cost for these procedures to state and federal publicly funded insurance programs.”
“I have personally witnessed staff say they were uncomfortable with how the Center has told them they have to code bills sent to publicly funded insurance programs,” Reed added. “I have witnessed staff directly ask the providers for clarification on billing questions and have providers dismiss the concerns and work to have the patients have this care covered as the priority.”
An ultimate goal may be to ensure that the state’s Medicaid program, which voters expanded through a vote in 2020, no longer covers gender-affirming care for transgender youth by manufacturing this scandal.
Fighting The 'Tools Of Indoctrination'
Erin Reed, a trans queer journalist (no relation to the whistleblower), went point by point in their newsletter Erin In the Morning to debunk the claims made by Jamie Reed. I recommend that you read that to understand the disinformation and pseudo-science that underpins the worst allegations. Instead of dealing with the specific allegations, I'll focus on the political players involved.
The Child and Parental Rights Campaign was founded in 2019. Over the past two years, it has received over $370,000 in grants, contributions, and other payments, but CPRC does not disclose the sources of these funds. Only $2,500 from the Matthew 2540 Foundation, which is an organization that says they are committed to Christian values to create “strong families,” has been made public.
Broyles contends that she is fighting a “transgender threat” to kids and American culture that is "sow[ing] the conditions for totalitarianism." This supposedly involves “tools of indoctrination” intended to “compel kids to normalize a radical new belief system by their actions.” That radical belief system, to Broyles, is made up of medically-backed treatments like puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, which Bailey and other Missouri officials may try to permanently ban.
Puberty blockers, as described by the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, help transgender teens block hormones and “delay changes that can affect gender expression.” They are temporary and can give transgender teens time to consider whether they would like hormone therapy.
For transgender older teenagers and young adults, the St. Louis Children’s Hospital says hormone therapy can be important for “mental health, confidence, body image, and overall quality of life.”
Both treatments are supported by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Endocrine Society.
According to the American Medical Association, one study conducted in 2022 followed “more than 100 transgender and nonbinary youth 13–20 years old.” Results indicated that “youth who received gender-affirming medications—including puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones—had a 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73% lower odds of suicidality over those first 12 months, compared with youth who did not get such medications.”
In a case in Arizona, the Child and Parental Rights Campaign supported a lawsuit to ensure Arizona’s Medicaid program did not pay for a transgender teen’s transition surgery. Broyles erroneously claimed that rigorous clinical studies have not been performed to know whether the procedure is “safe and effective.”
CPRC was behind a lawsuit in Florida that alleged that a school district had “illegally counseled their daughter about her gender confusion issues without their consent.” A federal judge declined to rule on the case in January, and CPRC appealed the decision.
'Forbid Your Child To Go To The Public School Counselor'
Broyles is an open supporter of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law. She cheers the law for its ability to prohibit school counselors from having conversations with students about their gender without informing parents.
She is against public school counselors helping teenagers with gender identity issues that may affect their mental health, even if parents know about the discussions.
“If you have a child in school, monitor closely or frankly forbid your child to go to the public school counselor,” Broyles said at the Eagle Forum in 2020. (The Eagle Forum was founded by Phyllis Schafly, who was a conservative activist known for her campaigns against reproductive healthcare and equal rights for women.)
Ernie Trakas of CPRC opposed President Joe Biden’s executive order intended to promote rights for transgender children. He also objected to making certain governmental bathrooms gender-neutral, contending this was “all part of a conspiracy against religious freedom in America.”
During a Senate hearing on rights to reproductive health care, Senator Josh Hawley tried to police how UC Berkeley School of Law professor Khiara Bridges discussed the issue. "You’ve referred to ‘people with a capacity for pregnancy,'” Hawley mentioned. “Would that be women?”
Bridges explained to Hawley how trans men could become pregnant and that was why she was not simply saying women, but Hawley refused to take what she said seriously.
Hawley also has co-sponsored national legislation to prevent transgender women from competing in women's sports.
Journalism That Fiercely Depends On The Right-Wing Political Machine
Bari Weiss may contend that the "Free Press" is built around “honesty, doggedness, and fierce independence,” but the fact is Reed’s self-proclaimed whistleblowing did not spread independently from a right-wing political machine that has committed itself to making it harder for transgender youth to exist.
The Concerned Women of America Legislative Committee put out a press release the day that the Free Press published Reed's op-ed. A part of the New Christian Right, the organization was founded by Beverly LaHaye, whose husband Timothy LaHaye authored the rapture fiction series Left Behind. It previously received millions of dollars from the Koch network, known for advancing the conservative agenda in legislatures throughout the United States.
"These same health-destroying practices are happening in children’s hospitals across the country and are the reason so many state legislatures are working to block the use of mutilating drugs and surgeries ‘permanently harming’ vulnerable youth," proclaimed Penny Nance, the CEO of CWA. "Reed’s first-hand account is every reason to shut down the transactivism infecting our country peddled by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Big Pharma, corporate America, and the Biden Administration."
Breakpoint, a publication of the Colson Center, which was founded by President Richard Nixon's hatchet man, Chuck Colson, shared the allegations with their followers. Colson was an evangelical Christian involved in the Watergate scandal. He also pled guilty to obstruction of justice after he attempted to defame Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
Weiss herself is well-known for her anti-trans views and previously peddled disinformation about transgender medical treatments. For example, Weiss published a similar post from Abigail Shrier in 2021 that purportedly featured two trans doctors who "blew the whistle" on "sloppy" transgender medical care, including the use of puberty blockers.
For those who do not know, Shrier authored a book about the "transgender craze." Medical researcher Dr. Jack Turban concluded, "The book's central (and false) premise is that there are massive numbers of transgender youth who are not truly transgender, but rather just confused, and that they are all being rushed into gender-affirming medical interventions and surgeries that they will later regret."
"As a physician and a researcher who has dedicated my career to taking care of and understanding transgender youth, I recognized the book as bizarre and full of misinformation. I assumed it wouldn't gain much traction. I was wrong," Turban added.
More Than Two Dozen States Move To Ban Transgender Medical Care
The Associated Press reported in January that more than two dozen states have considered bans against gender-affirming care. The Republican governor in Utah signed a ban into law. Similar laws were passed in Alabama and Arkansas but have been put on hold by the courts.
In 2021, the NPR documented a "historic wave of anti-trans bills" aimed at transgender youth. "Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the state's child welfare agency to investigate parents and health care providers who give gender-affirming care to trans youth, characterizing those actions as child abuse," NPR recalled.
Nebraska, South Dakota, and Oklahoma Republicans have advanced bans against puberty blockers and hormone therapy, despite the fact that such treatments are supported by major medical associations.
The Oklahoma Senate Committee passed a bill on February 8 that would ban transgender medical care for anyone under the age of 18. The bill would make it a felony for a doctor to provide medical care. A doctor would face up to 10 years in prison and a potential $100,000 fine if charged under the law.
“I think Oklahoma is currently positioning itself to be the most dangerous state for trans people in the country,” declared Nicole McAfee, who is the director of the LGBTQ rights organization Freedom Oklahoma.
Missouri Governor Michael Parson, who appointed Bailey to serve as the state’s attorney general, was sorely disappointed last year when the state legislature failed to pass a ban on transgender students participating in sports teams that match their gender identity.
Republicans in the state’s legislature proposed “more than a dozen separate pieces of legislation specifically addressing transgender youth in Missouri ahead of the 2023 session.”
The so-called whistleblower allegations from Reed put pressure on opponents of these proposals and may create the political climate needed to pass numerous anti-trans measures.