WU halts gender-affirming care for minors
On Sept. 11, Washington University released a statement regarding the future of the Washington University Transgender Center (WUTC) two weeks after Missouri state law banned gender-affirming care for all minors after Aug. 28.
Going beyond the restrictions outlined in SB49, the University will cease gender-affirming care for all minors — even those who were receiving the care before the state laws went into effect. WashU stated that it will be referring minors who wish to continue treatment to “other providers.”
In a statement, the University said that it is responding to SB49, which makes providers liable for potential damages. Under the law, patients could sue for a minimum of $500,000 up to 15 years after the patient turns 21 or ceases receiving care.
The statement highlighted the “new legal claim,” which creates “unsustainable liability for healthcare professionals and makes it untenable for us to continue to provide comprehensive transgender care for minor patients without subjecting the University and our providers to an unacceptable level of liability.”
Tamsin Kimoto, assistant professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, felt that the University should not have restricted gender-affirming care at WUTC so severely.
“I think taking the risk-aversive approach puts the University on the side of a deep, deep injustice,” Kimoto said.
They also questioned LGBTQ+ advocacy on campus, given the fraught nature of state politics: “I think that’s deeply troubling that we have a standing committee [that’s] theoretically devoted to advancing the interests of the LGBTQ+ people at the university, and they’re nowhere to be seen when we’re in the midst of this ongoing legislative attack.”
Susan Appleton, Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law, hoped the University would not restrict gender-affirming care for minors and instead continue its services despite the liability.
“I’d love to see doctors and institutions take a bolder approach — a more heroic approach — and an approach that centers patients rather than economic concerns,” Appleton said.
Amy Cislo, a teaching professor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, theorized that the University’s hands were tied when deciding on their plan of action for WUTC. She was nonetheless frustrated with the outcome.
“It’s such a disappointment that our institution can’t keep it running,” she said. “That we aren’t in a position to push back and say, ‘Oh, we’re gonna do this despite the law.’ But the reality is we have to be fiscally responsible.”
AJ Robinson, librarian of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, felt that the University’s influence over healthcare in the state of Missouri shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that specific wording in its statement impacts the way people understand transgender healthcare.
“When an institution takes such an interest and investment into [transgender children’s healthcare], that sends a huge message. And calling it a liability sends a very different huge message,” they said.
Crystal Odelle, academic and administrative coordinator for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, said that most WashU students won’t fall under direct impact of the law as most are over 18.
Nonetheless, Odelle is worried about what might come next.
“If WashU doesn’t take a hard stance [for] care for minors — which it has been a champion of, historically — will it take a stronger stance for adults if the state continues to raise the stakes against transgender adults? Will it be there to support us, or students? What faith do we have?” Odelle said.
Trevor Sangrey, senior lecturer in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, questioned whether the new rules will impact the faculty and staff that the University will be able to attract.
“I know, personally, of folks who made the choice to leave WashU because they couldn’t receive the care that they needed for their family. [That] will only continue to happen and [will] have huge ripple effects if WashU can’t attract the best staff and the best faculty. That’s a huge impact,” Sangrey said.
While conflicted between being optimistic and pessimistic, Sangrey suspects laws relating to transgender healthcare in Missouri may be restorable.
“I believe there can be changes to this law, and the Transgender Center can again offer the care [that it is] well-positioned and [has] the money to do,” they said. “Having the law stand in the way of appropriate healthcare is cruel.”
Elizabeth Fuchs, lecturer in the Brown School, knows that despite legal pressure from the state law, University community members will be frustrated by the change in WUTC care.
“The statement is not going to go far enough for people. It’s just not — and they went as far as they could,” she said. “It’s not the type of medicine or the type of industry leader we want to be, but our hands are really tied here.”
Fuchs, however, is ready to fight back.
“These government sanctions have been inflicted upon this community for a long time, and we will continue to organize,” she said. “We will continue to fight back, we will continue to find ways to provide care, and it’s going to take a lot of people — so allies, get ready! Ally is a verb, what does it look like?”
Reporting contributed by Vivian Zweig, Michelle Kim, Natalia Jamula, and Olivia Poolos