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Tennessee GOP outrage over transgender clinic a cynical ploy for votes

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Tennessee GOP outrage over transgender clinic a cynical ploy for votes

Sep 22, 2022 | 7:01 am ET
By Holly McCall
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Tennessee GOP outrage over transgender clinic a cynical ploy for votes
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House Republican Caucus leadership, from left: House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison, Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant, and Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton. (Photo: John Partipilo)

As if there were any doubt midterm elections are nearing, right-wing politicians have turned up the heat on cultural and social issues to make sure we don’t forget. 

Looney-tunes Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene held a Tuesday press conference outside the U.S. Capitol to announce she will lead a congressional movement to criminalize providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth and members of the Tennessee General Assembly followed suit on Wednesday.

The target is the Pediatric Transgender Clinic at Vanderbilt University Childrens Hospital, which apparently provides gender-affirming care to youth under the age of 18 — with parental consent and involvment. 

Locally, the uproar began when Matt Walsh, a columnist for Nashville-based right-wing outlet, The Daily Wire, posted a podcast about the Vanderbilt Clinic — also on Tuesday — and began tweeting to his 1 million followers. Walsh referred to the care provided by the clinic as “gender butchery,” among other graphic terms. 

Walsh garnered retweets from Tennessee House Majority Leader William Lamberth, House Republican Caucus Leader Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and according to The Daily Wire — to which I will not link — Gov. Bill Lee. Lee, reports the Wire, wants to investigate Vanderbilt. 

I have many thoughts on this drama. 

Starting with the obvious, I have no claim to expertise on LGBTQ issues as I am a straight, cisgender woman. I have always been comfortable with myself and I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I was born into the wrong body, but I know this: Transgender people aren’t a 21st century phenonmenon and gender-affirming care can be a matter of life and death. 

If Tennessee’s Republican politicians are truly concerned about the health and welfare of our children, they could show their concern by investigating why a state agency has had children sleeping on the floors of state office buildings, turn loose stockpiled money to feed hungry kids and take steps to address the state’s woefully high infant mortality rate.

I know a few adults who have had gender-affirming care. And I do not give a damn as long as they are happy, which to my knowledge they are. 

I know even less about children who identify as trans, so I rely on expert opinion.

Dr. Moira Szilagyi, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently wrote, “There is strong consensus among the most prominent medical organizations worldwide that evidence-based, gender-affirming care for transgender children and adolescents is medically necessary and appropriate. It can even be lifesaving. The decision of whether and when to start gender-affirming treatment, which does not necessarily lead to hormone therapy or surgery, is personal and involves careful consideration by each patient and family.”

The American Psychiatric Association in 2021 addressed anti-trans bills in legislatures across the country, writing: “Our organizations are strongly opposed to any legislation or regulation that would interfere with the provision of evidence-based patient care for any patient, affirming our commitment to patient safety. We recognize health as a basic human right for every person, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

And the American Medical Association also addressed moves to criminalize gender care in 2021: “Clinical guidelines established by professional medical organizations for the care of minors promote supportive interventions based on the current evidence and that enable young people to explore and live as the gender that they choose.”

But leave it to Tennessee Republicans who spend so much time talking about personal freedom, “parental choice” and support for private business to take aim at parents making the best choices for their kids in conjunction with them, harassing one of Nashville’s 800-lb. business gorillas — Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the largest employer in the area with more than 24,000 workers — and generally sticking their collective snoot in where it’s not called to be stuck. 

Cultural issues have been the Republicans’ selling point since Ronald Reagan failed to acknowledge the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s, a virus once called ‘gay cancer.’
 

Hours after Zachary tweeted about the Vanderbilt clinic, calling it “evil,” he tweeted a cheery ‘‘Get out the vote” graphic below a checkmarked list of items he says Tennessee Republicans are prioritizing, including “jobs and the Economy, Parental rights over your child’s education and healthcare, Safety for your family (Truth in Sentencing) Education. Your vote has never been more important.”

Finally, we get to the real issue for lawmakers: elections. Tennessee Republicans will hold on to their supermajority but there are signs the GOP may not win in the traditional sweep that occurs in midterm elections as backlash to the sitting president. The Cook Political Report, a reliable nonpartisan newsletter, rates more than 30 U.S. House races as toss ups, meaning the majority could go either way.

Say this for the GOP: Their officials know how to stick to the party line. Cultural issues have been the Republicans’ selling point since Ronald Reagan failed to acknowledge the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s, a virus once called ‘gay cancer.’

This year, it’s transgender kids and their parents and medical providers. This is no crisis for the American public or for politicians to solve: It’s a family-by-family decision.

And if Tennessee’s Republican politicians are truly concerned about the health and welfare of our children, there are a host of issues more pressing to examine than Vanderbilt’s clinic. 

They could investigate why the Department of Childrens’ Services has kids sleeping on the floors of state office buildings, shake loose funds for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families that sit in reserve or take steps to address Tennessee’s high infant mortality rates.

Until they do, the cynical among us will only see the current move as grandstanding for votes.