Democratic leaders push back on calls for Vanderbilt transgender clinic investigation

By: and - September 23, 2022 6:03 am
Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A day after Gov. Bill Lee and state Republican leaders called for an investigation into transgender care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Democratic leaders pushed back, saying that “hate” was being used “for political purposes.”

“Parents should be able to make decisions in regard to their children’s health. That is something Republicans claim to fight for, but refuse to acknowledge when it comes to transition-related care,” a statement from Rep. Vincent Dixie, House Democratic Caucus Chair said.

“We as Democrats stand united with Transgender Tennesseans and will fight to protect their human and civil rights,” the statement said.  “While Gov. Lee, Marsha Blackburn, (House Republican Chairman) Jeremy Faison, (House Majority Leader) William Lamberth and Attorney General Skrmetti pile on, demanding investigations into one of the state’s premier institutions based on baseless claims. This is simply using hate for political purposes.”

Parents should be able to make decisions in regard to their children’s health. That is something Republicans claim to fight for, but refuse to acknowledge when it comes to transition-related care.

– Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville

On Wednesday, blogger and podcaster Matt Walsh posted on Twitter a series of edited videos of Vanderbilt doctors speaking about transgender care provided by the hospital that he mischaracterized as suggesting children are “drugged and sterilized” before doctors “will happily perform double mastectomies on adolescent girls.”

Walsh also posted a video clip of a doctor speaking about gender affirming surgery as a “big money maker.” The speaker does not mention children in the limited video Walsh posted.

A statement released by Vanderbilt University Medical Center said the social media posts and edited videos “misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients.”

Walsh, who is based in Nashville, writes for the right-wing publication the Daily Wire, which describes him as one of the “Religious Right’s most influential young voices” His posts immediately caught the attention of Gov. Bill Lee, who called for an investigation into the Nashville teaching hospital. Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office said he would use the “full scope” of his authority to ensure state law is followed. And state Republican leaders quickly issued outraged statements, saying they would introduce legislation to outlaw pediatric transgender care.

Neither Lee nor other Republican officials have cited any law the medical center might have violated.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Sen. Ferrell Haile, who sponsored successful legislation in 2021 to restrict transgender drug therapy and surgery for prepubescent children, said they expect a bill limiting transgender medical care to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union Tennessee condemned calls for an investigation into VUMC and attempts to limit transgender health care. The ACLU in March launched a transgender education initiative, TRANScend Tennessee.

Neither Gov. Bill Lee nor other Republican officials have cited any law that Vanderbilt University Medical Center might have violated with its transgender care clinic. 

“We’re deeply disturbed by the governor’s choice to stigmatize transgender children and their families and legislators’ calls to introduce legislation restricting trans people’s access to health care,” Henry Seaton, an ACLU-TN transgender justice advocate said in a statement. “For the trans Tennesseans who see this hateful action and are fearful because of it — know that ACLU-TN will always advocate for the rights of children and families to make informed and safe private medical decisions.”

The statement noted that multiple studies show gender-affirming and supportive care reduces depression and suicidal ideation among transgender persons and medical organizations oppose limiting access to transgender care, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.




Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.

Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.