Democratic leaders push back on calls for Vanderbilt transgender clinic investigation

John Partipilo / Tennessee Lookout / Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Video and reports posted online Tuesday by conservative blogger Matt Walsh showing Vanderbilt officials discussing gender-affirming surgeries sparked outrage by Republican lawmakers.

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 Nashville state 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, (U.S. Sen.) Marsha Blackburn, (state House Republican Chairman) Jeremy Faison, (state House Majority Leader) William Lamberth and (state) Attorney General (Jonathan) 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."

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 Lee, who called for an investigation into the Nashville teaching hospital. Skrmetti's office said he would use the "full scope" of his authority to ensure state law is followed.

House Republican leaders filled Twitter with outrage, promising to dismantle the Vanderbilt program.

Lamberth, of Portland, said he is "deeply troubled" by the social media report.

"@GovBillLee is right to call for an investigation and we will support that investigation 100%. This type of child mutilation should be illegal and soon will be in TN," Lamberth said on Twitter.

Faison, of Cosby, also commented on Twitter.

"Giving hormone replacement treatments to minors is unconscionable," he wrote. He added that he would lead the "fight" next session to stop the procedures.

Lee issued a statement saying the "pediatric transgender clinic" at the Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns.

"We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children," he said. "We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation."

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

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, 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 Vanderbilt University Medical Center and attempts to limit transgender health care. The ACLU in March launched a transgender education initiative, Transcend Tennessee.

"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."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County school board passes new policy for transgender student athletes)

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.