FORT WORTH – The nation’s top transgender official came to Texas this weekend to call out what she called the political perversion of medicine and science and urge doctors to stand up against attacks on LGBT Americans’ access to health care.
“The truth we need to confront now is that medicine and science are being politically perverted around the country in ways that destroy human lives,” Dr. Rachel Levine, the US assistant secretary for health, said on Saturday at a conference on LGBTQ health care hosted by students at the Texas Christian University School of Medicine in Fort Worth.
“We have reached a tipping point for the role of medicine in civic life for health and well being of LGBTQIA + Americans and that is why I am here today,” she said.
Levine was scheduled to speak virtually to the Out for Health Conference, an annual forum organized for and by medical students and hosted each year by a different Texas school. But as more states seek to limit this care, with a particular target on gender affirming medical treatment for trans youth, Levine said she instead chose to appear in person.
Clad in the uniform that denotes her role as an admiral and head of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Levine said physicians needed to embrace their roles as patient advocates.
“I want to point out – this is a very important point – that if you’re an LGBTQIA + child, adolescent or teenager having mental health challenges, the difference between life and death is often a single caring adult,” Levine, who specializes in pediatric and adolescent care, told the conference attendees.
In February, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion classifying certain medical treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse. Gov. Greg Abbott then directed the state’s child welfare agency to investigate the parents of trans minors reportedly receiving this care.
At least nine such investigations were opened, but they’re on hold while the policy is litigated.
Levine said the federal government is watching what happens to the lawsuit filed by a Houston doctor and the family of a trans teen who are challenging Abbott’s directive. The Justice Department on Friday challenged a new Alabama law that makes it a felony to provide certain gender affirming care to transgender minors.
Without calling out any politicians by name, Levine said those who push to limit transgender youth’s access to treatments like these are rejecting “well-established” medical practices for “slander, bigotry and gender baiting hate speech.”
“Those who attack our LGBTQIA + community are driven by an agenda that has nothing to do with medicine. It has nothing to do with science. It has nothing to do with warmth, empathy, compassion and understanding, ”Levine said. “We have to take a stand on behalf of those who are being hurt.”
“Gender affirming care is medical care. Gender affirming care is mental health care. Gender affirming care is suicide prevention care, ”she added, citing a study published in February that showed that after a year of this care the odds of suicidality were lowered by 73% in a group of 13 to 20 year old trans and nonbinary patients.
A 2021 survey by the Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQ youth, and more than half of those identified as trans or nonbinary, had considered suicide in the previous year. Last year, after pressure from GOP politicians, the state’s health department removed links to the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention hotline from its websites.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News after her speech, Levine said she met with transgender children and their parents while in Texas.
“We see them and we support them,” Levine said.
“The word I used when I spoke with the families is that it’s a very insidious way to address this issue,” Levine said. “It is turning the child protection agency, which is supposed to protect children and families, to attack children and families for political purposes.”
She urged anyone who believes they were denied health care due to their sexual orientation of gender identity to contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights to lodge a complaint.
When asked if any Texans have filed complaints since the state targeted gender affair care in February, the civil rights office said it does not comment on “open or potential investigations.”
Levine also offered to speak to Abbott or any other elected official about the issue at any time. Neither the governor nor Paxton responded to requests for comment about her remarks.
Levine brushed aside questions about attacks on her own identity, including those Paxton lobbied on her on Twitter just months ago. As a health professional, she said she has learned how to properly compartmentalize and channel her emotions into her advocacy but worries what message these attacks send to other transgender people.
“I don’t worry about me,” she said. “I worry about them.”
While Levine got the COVID-19 pandemic has ramped up the politicization of medicine and science, she remains optimistic that this recent wave of negative attention on the transgender community will eventually diminish. This is an election year after all, she added.
“I don’t know how long it’ll last,” Levine said. “But I don’t think that will continue forever.”
Editor’s Note: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline provides 24/7 free and confidential help for people in distress and their loved ones at 1-800-273-8255.