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Tennessee lawmakers weigh in on Vanderbilt providing gender-affirming care

vanderbilt university medical center
Posted at 12:05 PM, Sep 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 06:28:49-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee lawmakers made their way into the discourse Wednesday evening after a conservative blogger questioned whether Vanderbilt University Medical Center should provide gender-affirming care to patients.

Matt Walsh — a Daily Wire conservative commentator, who questions LGBTQ rights — said he considered the care to be that of castration and mutilation to minors and adults.

"We don't allow children's parents to decide whether or not they can drink underage, whether they can smoke underage, whether they marry underage, and we certainly should not allow a child to be disfigured in a horrible way, in an irreversible procedure before they're 18 years of age," Rep. Williams Lamberth, R-Portland, said.

He — along with Sen. Jack Johnson — have said they would work on a bill to address the issue, but VUMC said they haven't broken state laws. VUMC said they require parental consent to treat minors who are being seen for issues to those receiving gender-affirming care and never refuse parental involvement for those under 18. VUMC officials said they began their Transgender Health Clinic because "transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health issues and have been consistently underserved by the U.S. health system."

"We have been and will continue to be committed to providing family-centered care to all adolescents in compliance with state law and in line with professional practice standards and guidance established by medical specialty societies," officials said in the statement.

However, Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, said he was concerned.

"These procedures on Tennessee’s youth are barbaric. I think they are, and it’s very concerning," he said. "I think there would have to be a really good case and a lot of parental support in order to do that. I — on the other hand — would not support it, those surgeries in minors. But I do think if an adult chooses to make that decision to do that, that is obviously their prerogative to do so."

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, said Republicans can't believe parents have full rights when it comes to COVID-19 healthcare, but not gender-affirming healthcare.

"The COVID environment we were in, they advocated that parents know what’s best for their kids," Dixie said. "If parents don’t want their kids to wear masks, they shouldn’t be forced to. Now you’re telling parents you’re going to do what Republicans tell you to do. We know what’s best for you in your own home. So, you can’t have it both ways."

VUMC added that their policies allow employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable. They also 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 continued.

"The Trans Buddy program mentioned in the video has received national acclaim. Its purpose is to provide peer volunteers who support persons who are seeking highly personal care in an unfamiliar environment, and who may have been refused medical services in the past or avoided seeking them out of fear of being met with hostility," VUMC officials said.

In one of Walsh's tweets, he indicated that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is calling for an investigation into Vanderbilt.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to the governor's office for a statement regarding this claim and received this response confirming an investigation.

“The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns. 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.”

In addition to the governor, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti also issued a statement.

"We are aware of allegations of illegal conduct at the Clinic for Transgender Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. General Skrmetti will use the full scope of his authority to ensure compliance with Tennessee law," he said.

Researchers with The Journal of the American Medical Association found in a recent study that gender-affirming care for transgender youth aged 13 to 20 years old is associated with 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73% lower odds of suicidality over a 12-month follow-up period. This care includes puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones.

"This kind of organized threat to remove access to healthcare for vulnerable members of our community by spreading disinformation and targeting children harms every member of the community," said Laura McGinnis, with PFLAG-Nashville.