In an attempt to further demonize gender-affirming care for transgender individuals, some right-wing media outlets have misrepresented recently updated clinical guidelines to falsely claim that “gender ideology” has removed safeguards for children and stripped parents of their rights.
On September 6, the World Professional Association for Transgender Healthcare (WPATH) released its updated standards of care for providing mental, emotional, and physical care for individuals facing gender dysphoria. The standards of care are a set of clinical recommendations and best practices that have been periodically updated since they were first published in 1979.
While the organization made a number of changes to its most recent update, WPATH issued a correction on September 15 largely focused on suggested age requirements for gender-affirming medical care. Previously, WPATH recommended specific minimum ages (starting at age 14) for certain gender-affirming procedures and treatments, but the updated standards of care instead indicate that clinicians can begin discussing certain nonsurgical treatments once an individual has started puberty. Rather than providing a blanket age minimum, these updated guidelines tailor gender-affirming care to the development of the specific patient.
Some right-wing media outlets have been quick to jump on WPATH’s updated standards of care as the latest target in their ongoing crusade to demonize gender-affirming care. Many of these same outlets have been stoking fears of “genital mutilation” and harm to children through gender-affirming care for some time now, with some even amplifying harassment campaigns against gender-affirming care providers or outright calling for violence against them.
Now, these outlets have fearmongered over the new age guidance, falsely claiming that children will be operated on at-will without their parents’ knowledge or consent and crying foul over the supposed influence of “gender ideology” in medicine. These characterizations of WPATH’s guidance intentionally distort and cherry-pick broad recommendations to continue this longstanding and harmful anti-trans campaign.
FALSE: Doctors will be indoctrinating children to change their gender identity
While WPATH does recommend that health care providers encourage a patient’s exploration of their gender identity, the standards of care also make abundantly clear that “cisgender children are not expected to undertake this exploration” and “not all gender diverse children wish to explore their gender.” The guidelines conclude that any attempt to force gender exploration onto a patient, especially a child, is unwelcome and ill-advised.
Right-wing media, however, have repeatedly pushed the lie that transgender individuals have arrived at the conclusion that they are trans only through coercion and indoctrination. With the removal of minimum age requirements from WPATH’s guidance, some have perpetuated this lie by fearmongering that doctors will now force procedures or ideas onto children.
- James Esses, who also penned several articles on the updated standards of care, posted a 13-tweet thread claiming that “ideology has infected medicine and the safeguarding of our most vulnerable children” by recommending “irreversible medication and surgery.” [Twitter, 9/16/22, 9/16/22]
- The Christian Post referred to gender-affirming care as “disfiguring sex change surgeries” and claimed that the new guidelines “argue that boys suffering from gender dysphoria can obtain ‘improved psychosocial functioning’ if they allow a surgeon to perform a vaginoplasty by removing penis tissue to create a fake vagina.” [The Christian Post, 9/18/22]
- In an article for Turning Point USA, writer and influencer Isabel Brown dramatically misinterpreted WPATH’s guidance on parental involvement despite quoting the standards of care directly, stating that “WPATH encourages confused individuals to find their gender identity anywhere except within their true biological sex.” [TPUSA.com, 9/16/22]
FALSE: Doctors have been given the “green light” to operate on children
While the new standards do allow caregivers to explore surgical options when indicated by a patient, they repeatedly make the point that nonsurgical methods, such as social transitioning and “at least 12 months of gender-affirming hormone therapy or longer,” should be implemented along with multiple clinical assessments before surgical interventions are considered for minors. Additionally, WPATH notes that gender-affirming surgical procedures with higher risks of complications are “not recommended” to “be considered in youth under 18 at this time.”
- Newsmax host Rob Schmitt claimed that the WPATH standards of care have “no age requirement,” and later suggested that “in order to avoid being offensive, we’re just going to mangle children.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 9/16/22]
- A health report for Fox News’ website misleadingly claimed in the headline that the standards of care give the “green light” for surgeries on young children. [FoxNews.com, 9/6/22]
- In anticipation of the update, Debra Soh argued in the Washington Examiner that the new WPATH guidelines “would mean children are able to undergo cross-sex hormones at age 14, double mastectomies at age 15, and genital surgeries, including hysterectomies and removal of the ovaries or testes, at age 17.” She also claimed that “it isn’t far off to imagine that once these new guidelines are in place, minors may be granted access at even younger ages.” [Washington Examiner, 9/9/22]
FALSE: Parents will be barred from their child’s care
The standards of care explicitly treat younger patients and their parents as a combined unit, noting that “a comprehensive assessment can facilitate the formation of an individualized plan to assist a gender diverse prepubescent children and family members” and emphasizing care for the child in tandem with education and support for their parents or caregivers. While some right-wing media outlets have been quick to misconstrue this as a blanket disregard for parental input or involvement, WPATH makes clear that parental involvement should be limited only in cases “where their involvement is determined to be harmful to the adolescent or not feasible.”
- In a gross mischaracterization of the standard of care, Schmitt claimed that “parental consent is allowed as long as the parent is in agreement with child mutilation.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 9/16/22]
- The Christian Post's Samantha Kamman claimed the updated standards “suggest that obtaining parental consent should not be a requirement before minors undergo disfiguring surgeries” before later admitting that WPATH’s guidance aims to “help youth work alongside their parents or caregivers.” [The Christian Post, 9/18/22]
- On Twitter, Log Cabin GOP project OUTspoken fearmongered that the updated guidance “appears to advocate taking away the rights of parents if they refuse to ‘affirm’ a child's gender identity.” [Twitter, 9/19/22]
- Daily Wire host and anti-LGBTQ bigot Matt Walsh took to Twitter to similarly lament the supposed loss of parents' rights in a lengthy thread, asserting that “WPATH is now run by people in the gender ideology industry” and claiming that under the new guidelines, “parents are given consent, as long as they say yes.” [Twitter, 9/16/22]
- The Daily Wire echoed this sentiment in an article from Christina Buttons which falsely claimed that “state powers may intervene if a parent does not affirm their child’s chosen identity.” [The Daily Wire, 9/15/22]
- In her second article on WPATH’s updated guidelines, Debra Soh wrote that “with the explosion of children identifying beneath the so-called trans umbrella, along with the acceptance of ‘gender-affirming care’ as the professional norm and the removal of safeguarding barriers that previously stood in a minor’s way, once the final source of resistance, parents, is removed from the equation, who will prevent a child from potentially making a mistake?” [Washington Examiner, 9/22/22]