MO Attorney General investigating Transgender Center at WUSM

| Editor-in-Chief
A close-up on the front of WashU's medical school.

Alan Zhou | Student Life

2/16/2023 Editor’s Note: Information has been added to this article to emphasize scientific findings that gender-affirming care is lifesaving for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Going forward, Student Life will ensure that our coverage of sensitive topics will be fairer to involved groups and balanced in its pursuit of the truth. We apologize for harm caused by not adequately doing so in the original version of this article.

The Missouri Attorney General, Andrew Bailey, is investigating the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital after a former employee filed a complaint against the Center’s medical practices.

The investigation comes at a time when conservative politicians nationwide are increasingly pushing legislation that aims to ban, limit, and criminalize gender-affirming treatments that have been demonstrated to be necessary for many transgender individuals.

Jamie Reed, a former case manager at the Center, filed a complaint to Bailey on Jan. 26, alleging inappropriate medical practices at the Center. She later publicized her allegations in an article titled “I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids. Now I’m Blowing the Whistle,” in the online news publication “The Free Press,” Feb. 9.

In her opinion piece, Reed wrote that she believes the Center is treating patients in ways that are leading to adverse health effects for young people, who she alleges fail to understand the implications of the hormone treatments or surgeries they receive.

Washington University School of Medicine’s Divisions of Endocrinology and Adolescent Medicine came together to form the Center in 2017 to provide holistic medical and mental health care to patients at a time when, according to St. Louis Children’s website, “referrals for gender care were on the rise” and “dedicated services for gender non-conforming patients were lacking in our community.”

The Center’s services include gender-affirming hormones, puberty blockers, menstrual suppression, and voice and speech therapy. 

Reed also called for a moratorium on “the hormonal and surgical treatment of young people with gender dysphoria.” The day after her article was published, Bailey echoed that sentiment, calling for a moratorium on treatments for patients at the Center pending the outcome of the investigation.

The University has announced that the Center is not halting its services. 

“The [Center] is the only place in the entire state of Missouri where transgender youth can access the care they need to ensure their mental and physical well-being,” Chancellor Andrew Martin and President of BJC HealthCare, Richard Liekweg, wrote in a statement to Bailey on Feb. 14. 

“Therefore, we cannot institute a moratorium that would deny critical, standards-based care to current and new patients,” Martin and Liekweg wrote. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, we are establishing additional oversight at the Transgender Center, and we will continue our internal review of practices at the Center to ensure that our patients and families are receiving the appropriate guidance and care for their individual medical needs.”  

In response to the controversy, transgender activist Erin Reed wrote in a widely-circulated article called “Missouri Anti-trans ‘Whistleblower’ Story is a Manufactured Controversy- Point by Point,” that ending gender-affirming care for transgender youth would “result in actual harm and death to this patient population.” 

Erin Reed highlighted statistics indicating that gender-affirming medical transitions are associated with “lower rates of psychological distress and suicidal ideation” among transgender and gender-diverse individuals.

According to the Center’s website, its doctors provide patients with this affirming care: “The Washington University Transgender Center provides health care for transgender and non-binary people in a welcoming, affirming environment.”

In line with the Center’s practices, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry wrote that “research consistently demonstrates that gender diverse youth who are supported to live and/or explore the gender role that is consistent with their gender identity have better mental health outcomes than those who are not.”

Robert Fischer, the director of communications for PROMO, Missouri’s Statewide LGBTQ Advocacy Organization, spoke with praise about the Center’s work in a statement that major news publications have been circulating.

“Through PROMO’s work, we have heard dozens upon dozens of positive personal stories from transgender and gender non-conforming youth and families about the ethic of care they’ve received throughout their time at the Washington University Transgender Center,” Fischer said.

“We’ve also sat in rooms with over 30 parents who have shared stories about how their children thrived when they received interdisciplinary, holistic care from a team of providers at the [center],” he continued. “We have no insight into these allegations and accusations from one person.”

The University responded to Jamie Reed’s piece in a statement titled “Statement on Transgender Center” on Feb. 9, saying that it is “alarmed by the allegations…describing practices and behaviors the author says she witnessed.” The statement also notes that the University has “begun the process of looking into the situation to ascertain the facts.” 

MO Senator Josh Hawley tweeted that he “spoke to the Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis today who assured me he was appalled by these reports of child sterilization & mistreatment and the University will cooperate fully with investigations,” Feb 9. 

Reed’s article addressed the topic of infertility that Hawley referenced, but did not use the phrase “child sterilization.” 

Hawley also tweeted that Chancellor Andrew Martin “assured me the whistleblower will be fully protected from retaliation.”

Additionally, in her article, Erin Reed sought to refute Jamie Reed’s grounds to speak on the health issues she discussed.

“Jamie Reed is not a researcher,” Erin Reed wrote. “She is not even a medical provider. She is a case worker that has developed anti-trans opinions and has now engaged in activity that will harm them.”

While much of Jamie Reed’s article outlined her opposition to the way the Center is medically treating transgender minors, she also wrote that she began to perceive hostility from others at her workplace when she questioned the authority of doctors and medical procedures.

University community members have also expressed discontent with the politicized response to Reed’s article. In the last few years, GOP lawmakers have increasingly sought to ban gender-affirming therapies, and MO Senator Josh Hawley is now at the forefront of the investigation into the Center. 

“Starting immediately, your institutions must take steps to preserve all records, written and electronic, regarding gender-related treatments performed on minors since the opening of the Center. Additional oversight inquiries and outreach will follow,” Hawley wrote in a letter to Martin and President of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Trish M. Lollo. 

In his letter, Hawley also wrote that “If even a fraction of the whistleblower’s new allegations is corroborated, the Center should be immediately shut down.” 

The National Health Law Program notes in a piece called “Gender-Affirming Care for Youth is Good Health Care” that “Efforts to stop health care providers from delivering gender-affirming health care prioritizes fear-based misinformation and harmful narratives over scientific and evidence-based treatment.” 

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