State lawmakers are pledging to ban transgender surgeries on children, and Gov. Bill Lee is calling for an investigation of Vanderbilt’s Pediatric Transgender Clinic after conservative podcaster Matt Walsh posted a thread on social media questioning the morality of the clinic’s work.
Walsh, whose show is part of the Nashville-based Daily Wire, claimed Tuesday based on a two-minute video that the clinic at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt “got into the gender transition game” because surgeries are a “big moneymaker.”
Walsh posted videos without context showing Dr. Ellen Clayton, a physician and law professor at Vanderbilt, calling healthcare workers’ “conscientious objections” because of religious beliefs “problematic.” Walsh also shared videos on the clinic’s “Trans Buddies” program, which offers transgender patient advocates for trans patients during any type of medical care.
“Vanderbilt got into the gender transition game admittedly in large part because it is very financially profitable,” Walsh claimed. "They then threatened any staff members who objected, and enlisted a gang of trans activists to act as surveillance in order to force compliance. They now castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors as well as adults while apparently taking steps to hide this activity from the public view.”
In response, VUMC released a statement saying Walsh’s claims “misrepresent the facts.”
“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,” the statement reads.
VUMC says it requires parental consent to treat a minor seen for transgender care, never refuses parental involvement and allows employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable.
VUMC’s clinic is not the first to come under scrutiny from Walsh. The FBI arrested a Massachusetts woman last week in connection with a hoax bomb threat made against Boston Children’s Hospital after its transgender clinic was the subject of Walsh’s criticism.
By Wednesday morning, VUMC deleted its webpage on the clinic. Archived copies of the pediatric transgender clinic’s website from August 2022 detail “care to gender variant and transgender children and adolescents,” including “pubertal blocking or gender-affirming therapy,” with informed consent and a letter from a mental health professional.
Calls for investigation
In response to Walsh’s thread, Lee called for an investigation into the clinic.
“The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns,” Lee said in a statement. “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.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn echoed Lee’s calls for investigation.
“We are shocked by what we have seen in these videos,” Blackburn tweeted. “We would hope that VUMC would make better decisions. There is nothing healthy about mutilating the bodies of minor children. We need an investigation into VUMC putting profits ahead of children immediately.”
Lee and Blackburn did not specify what law they believe VUMC to have broken, though the clinic’s website specifically mentions puberty blocking therapies available after state law banned them last year. Religious liberty concerns for VUMC employees may also be a subject of concern.
Lee spokeswoman Jade Byers confirmed to Main Street Nashville that his office communicated concerns to Tennessee Attorney General Johnathan Skrmetti.
Samantha Fisher, a spokesperson for the Attorney General, confirmed.
“We are aware of allegations of illegal conduct at the Clinic for Transgender Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” Fisher said. “General Skrmetti will use the full scope of his authority to ensure compliance with Tennessee law.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Walsh shared that he met with Republican legislative leaders Rep. William Lamberth and Sen. Jack Johnson to propose a bill for the legislature to consider next year.
Republican lawmakers have lambasted VUMC on social media in light of Walsh’s revelations.
“@GovBillLee is right to call for an investigation and we will support that investigation 100%,” Lamberth wrote in a tweet. “This type of child mutilation should be illegal and soon will be in TN.”
A bill that would have banned doctors from performing irreversible gender reassignment surgeries on children earlier this year did not move forward. Sen. Janice Bowling and Rep. John Ragan sponsored the Youth Health Protection Act that would have prohibited surgeries including castration, mastectomy, vasectomy, hysterectomy and vaginoplasty on minors.
The bill was never brought for a vote.