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Less than two months ago, officials at the Children’s Medical Center Dallas told a local website that their program, which offers mental health services and hormone treatments for transgender children, was crucial for young people with gender dysphoria.
Hospital officials said the care available through the program, which focuses on multi-level care for these children and is considered the first of its kind in the southwestern United States, helped reduce “significant suffering and extraordinarily high suicide rates” among transgender children.
Last week, the program Gender Education and Care, Interdisciplinary Support was formally dissolved.
Known as GENECIS, the program has been criticized in recent weeks by activists who have organized protests against hospital board members and accused the program of committing child abuse.
Activists’ claims reflect broad claims made by Republican Texas officials and political candidates this year about the gender-confirming health care that transgender children receive – claims that medical experts say are false because doctors do not allow children to undergo irreversible medical treatments.
The harassment experienced by health care providers “trying to uphold their Hippocratic oath to save lives” is “heartbreaking,” according to Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas.
“Accessing healthcare can be a daunting task for many LGBTQ + people because of how difficult it is to find providers who are aware of our needs and the poor treatment we have experienced by insurance companies and / or providers in the past. , “Martinez said in a statement.
Officials at the Children’s Hospital and UT Southwestern Medical Center, which jointly ran the program, declined Friday to say what prompted them to stop GENECIS, other than to say it would benefit patients and their families for privacy. And they said in a statement Friday that current patients will continue to receive the hormones and mental health treatments they received before the program ended.
“Pediatric endocrinology, psychiatry, and the care of adolescents and young adults coordinated through this program are now managed and coordinated through each specialty department,” the statement said. “We do not expect any interruption of care or services for our existing patients who are already receiving care with these specialist teams.”
Contrary to the public fanfare that accompanied the program’s opening in 2015, last Friday’s closure of the program as it has worked came without any official announcement.
“The choice to remove branding for this care provides a more private, isolated experience for patients and their families,” the joint statement said.
Referrals to the GENECIS program, which was under the umbrella of endocrinology at the Children’s Hospital, have been removed from the institution’s website.
Hospital officials said in the statement that new patients will be seen in “appropriate specialist wards” and offered mental health and counseling.
“We accept new patients for diagnosis, including evaluation of gender dysphoria, but will not initiate patients into hormone or puberty suppression therapy solely for this diagnosis,” the statement said.
Criticism of the program came amid a wave of anti-transgender political sentiment in Texas. Legislators have this year banned transgender student athletes from participating in school sports teams that match their gender identity. The new law came after unsuccessful legislative attempts to ban treatments such as those offered through GENECIS and define such health care as child abuse.
Medical experts have pushed back on these depictions. Leading health organizations in Texas have said that gender reassignment care is the best way to provide care for transgender children. It includes the use of puberty blockers, a form of medical treatment that delays puberty and is completely reversible. Such treatment has been approved for children for decades.
Governor Greg Abbott earlier this year instructed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services to determine if some gender reassignment surgery for transgender children is child abuse. But medical experts say the surgeries Abbott cited – orchiectomies, hysterectomies and mastectomies – rarely, if ever, are part of gender-affirming care for transgender children.
That request came after former state Sen. Don Huffines, who will challenge Abbott in next year’s Republican primary, criticized the governor for not doing enough to protect Texas children from “mutilation.”
GENECIS served families through referrals from psychologists, pediatricians and other providers as well as from families who contacted them directly.
The clinic offered hormone replacement therapy to older children after a rigorous screening process, but also counseling and mental health services that did not involve any medical intervention.
The clinic did not offer surgical options or sex reassignment surgeries to either children or adults.
Several employees and presenters contacted by the Texas Tribune did not return requests for comment.
In September, hospital officials told The Dallas Express in an email that the program was necessary in the community.
“With a suicide attempt rate of up to 41% for children and adolescents with gender dysphoria, comprehensive care is needed for these adolescents,” it read in the email. “Given the significant suffering and the extraordinarily high suicide rate in these children, it is necessary to offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to help treat this medical problem.”
Areana Quiñones, executive director of the Texas nonprofit Doctors For Change, has defined gender-affirming care as judgmental, individualized care oriented toward understanding and appreciating a person’s gender.
Providers often work with counselors and family members to make sure they have everything they need to navigate the health care system.
Under the gender-affirming care model, more time is spent giving children the opportunity for social transition instead of focusing on medical treatment. A social transition consists of the steps a child takes to confirm their identity. An example could include allowing a child assigned to a man at birth to wear clothes, grow their hair or use another name that better suits their identity.
Sometimes more medical support is needed for the child. Puberty or hormone blockers are used to give a transgender child time before deciding what permanent menopause-related treatment they want.
The frequency of suicide attempts among transgender teens is three times higher than among their cis-gender counterparts, according to recent studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
LGBTQ advocates have said that the mere ghost that several of the GOP measures pushed through the Legislative Assembly this year could become law did psychological harm to transgender people. Through several legislative meetings this year, transgender Texans, parents, and advocates spent late nights and early mornings testifying earnestly, holding rallies, and lobbying lawmakers.
Contributing Writer James Pollard contributed to this report.
Publication: Equality Texas and UT Southwestern Medical Center have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support does not play a role in Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.