Sen. Rand Paul parrots right-wing media lies about trans youth during Dr. Rachel Levine's confirmation hearing

Paul lied that kids are undergoing “genital mutilation” and cited junk science from discredited anti-LGBTQ group American College of Pediatricians

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) promoted right-wing media lies about medical care for trans youth during the Senate confirmation hearing for Dr. Rachel Levine, who has been nominated to be the assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Paul lied that Levine supports the “genital mutilation” of trans kids, who do not undergo gender affirmation surgeries. 

In reality, affirming the gender identity of trans youth is best practice health care and widely supported by medical professionals and research, and it yields long-term mental health benefits and can be lifesaving for young trans people. Furthermore, young trans and gender-diverse children are not undergoing surgery or irreversible treatments;  rather, as social work professor Katherine Kuvalanka told The Washington Post, “The only interventions for young children is affirmation and acceptance for who they are.” 

Despite these facts, Paul repeatedly and falsely suggested during Levine’s February 25 hearing that trans kids were undergoing “genital mutilation” and lied that Levine supports “surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia.” As PinkNews has noted, these false claims are based on right-wing media lies attacking Levine’s nomination:

Fanatical Trump anti-LGBT+ outlets Newsmax and The National Pulse have now joined the misinformation train, with Newsmax claiming without any basis in reality that Levine supports “gender reassignment surgery for pre-pubescent children”.

The articles point to tweets from Levine sharing research on puberty blockers – reversible drugs that are prescribed to trans teenagers – as well as her presence at a 2012 medical conference where she led a session exploring “medical care for transgender youth”.

However, at no point does Levine support reassignment surgery on trans children, which is routinely restricted to adults over the age of 18 across most of the US.

Paul also cited the deceptively named anti-LGBTQ group American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) to falsely claim that most kids with gender dysphoria will stop being trans. In reality, research shows that trans children sense their gender identities at a young age. According to the American Psychological Association, “Children usually have a sense of their gender identity between age 2 to 5 and they typically become cognizant of their sexual orientation around age 9 or 10, although this self-awareness is occurring at earlier ages, particularly as it is a topic more widely discussed and available to younger children.”

ACPeds is an extreme anti-LGBTQ group made up of a few hundred physicians who broke off from the legitimate American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) -- which has more than 67,000 members -- after it began supporting the right of same-sex couples to adopt children and provide foster care. The AAP supports best practice health care for trans youth. ACPeds has long peddled myths about trans youth that are popular in right-wing media.

Video file

Citation From C-SPAN 3's coverage of the February 25, 2021, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. 

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Genital mutilation has been nearly universally condemned. Genital mutilation has been condemned by the [World Health Organization], the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Population Fund. According to the WHO, genital mutilation is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights. Genital mutilation is considered particularly egregious because, as the WHO notes, it is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. Most genital mutilation is not typically performed by force, but as WHO notes, that by social convention, social norm, the social pressure to conform, to do what others do and have been doing as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community. 

American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones to prevent their biological development of their secondary sexual characteristics. Dr. Levine, you have supported both allowing minors to be given hormone blockers to prevent them from going through puberty as well as surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia. Like surgical mutilation, hormonal interruption of puberty can permanently alter and prevent secondary sexual characteristics. The American College of Pediatricians reports that 80-95% of prepubertal children with gender dysphoria will experience resolution by late adolescence if not exposed to medical intervention and social affirmation. Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one's sex?

DR. RACHEL LEVINE (FORMER PENNSYLVANIA HEALTH SECRETARY): Well, Senator, thank you for your interest in this question. Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.

PAUL: The specific question was about minors. Let's be a little more specific since you evaded the question. Do you support the government intervening to override the parents’ consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and/or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia? You have said that you are willing to accelerate the protocols for street kids. I’m alarmed that poor kids with no parents who are homeless and distraught -- you would just go through this and allow that to happen to a minor?

Rand Paul’s baseless claims come straight from right-wing media

Paul’s anti-trans lies about surgery and “mutilation” parrot the myths that right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups regularly use to fearmonger and spread disinformation about best practice medical care for trans youth -- particularly the false claim that kids are undergoing “radical, life-altering decisions” that are irreversible

Right-wing media have wielded these and other anti-trans attacks against Levine since she was first nominated in January. If confirmed, she will be the first openly trans federal official confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Notably, Fox News host Laura Ingraham attacked Levine for supporting health care for trans youth on February 23, two days before her hearing. 

Moreover, right-wing content about trans kids’ health care is pervasive online and skews the public's understanding of the issue. A Media Matters study of Facebook content about trans topics earning at least 100,000 interactions (likes, comments, and shares) during a one-year time period found that content about trans issues from right-leaning sources “earned nearly two times the engagement of all other sources combined” on Facebook. Overall, 12% of that content was from right-leaning sources writing about medical care for trans youth, earning a total of 8.31 million Facebook interactions. 

This deluge of anti-trans misinformation has dire impacts on the trans community. State legislatures around the country are advancing measures to ban and criminalize best practice care for trans youth, and similar efforts in the past have been fueled by the anti-trans misinformation spread by anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media.