Who's Attacking Children's Hospitals Today?
Breaking news: Rightwing propagandist Christopher Rufo is lying again. For the last few weeks, online smear campaigns by rightwing social media accounts like "Libs of TikTok" have resulted in death threats and harassment against children's hospitals that provide gender-affirming care to transgender and nonbinary youth. And now Rufo, the far-Right guy who did the most to create and promote the panic over supposed "critical race theory" in public schools, has gotten in on the panic, pushing a ridiculous claim that the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago has somehow "created partnerships with local school districts to promote radical gender theory, 'kink,' 'BDSM,' and 'trans-friendly' sex toys for children."
This is, of course, pure bullshit. Here's the part that's true: Lurie Children's does indeed provide services for transgender and gender-nonconforming young people, up to the age of 25. And the hospital also provides outreach programs for Chicago-area school faculty and administrators about how to provide a gender-inclusive, supportive environment for LGBTQ kids. So when Rufo freaks out about "radical gender theory," that's what he's talking about. As we'll see, it's pretty bog standard trans panic stuff complaining that the hospital is promoting "trans activism" and undermining all of Western civilization. Ah, but what about the porn and the kink and the BDSM and the SEX TOYS FOR CHILDREN — why on earth would any responsible medical institution "encourage" or "promote" such filthy filth to innocent children in school?
Heck, that's simple: Rufo's full of shit, but very cleverly full of shit, because he saw something nasty in the endnotes.
First Can We Note That Children's Hospitals Are Full Of Sick Children, Some Of Whom Have Cancer And Everything?
We feel like that part keeps getting left out. These people are attacking children's hospitals, which are by definition full of sick children. They are saying things like "shut them down." They are inciting their followers to call in bomb threats. To buildings with sick children in them.
Now The Rest Of It: 'Gender Activists' Who Want Students To Feel Safe
On his blog (Archive lnk, because fuck sending him traffic), Rufo says he has "obtained insider documents" revealing the "troubling collaboration between gender activists at Lurie Children’s Hospital ... and school administrators throughout the Chicago area." Rufo lists four school districts where staff from the hospital have given presentations, and provides examples two slideshows he'd really like you to be outraged about. So you won't have to go to Rufo's site to see it, we've included one of the presentations, titled "Beyond Binary: Gender in Schools." Feel free to browse through it at work because there is absolutely no porn or sex toys or even a word about sexual activity of any kind in it. We promise!
Here are some typical slides explaining what school teachers or counselors can do to help a kid feel safe and accepted if they come out — either to the teacher, or in class — followed by some discussion questions that appear near the end of the presentation.
Probably the most "controversial" line in this perfectly valid advice to teachers and counselors is in the second slide, which instructs them to respect students' confidentiality: "Do not disclose the student's sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. Including to parents/guardians and school staff." Sure, sounds like protecting a student's privacy to us crazy progressives, but to the Right, it's keeping secrets from parents, and therefore "indoctrination" and "grooming," which was a large part of the impetus for Florida's "Don't Say Gay" Law.
Even more terrifying are these slides with discussion questions for attendees of the meeting to talk about, when clearly the only right answer to any of them is that God made only men and women and that's all teachers should ever say to kids, the end:
So Where's The Filth? Show Us The Filth!
But wait, that still doesn't have any communist preversions or kinky stuff, and no trans-friendly sex toys for kids either. To be sure, the presentation, in saying that LGBTQ+ kids should be respected and that schools should use the name and pronouns that the kids prefer, is already deeply offensive to those who insist on a hard gender binary, as Rufo does. But where's the outrageous stuff he promised us? Oh, here it is, right here, in the list of resources on the last two pages of the slide show!
If you're looking at it on Rufo's website, it looks like this:
Wow, how's that for shocking? Now, you can actually get to readable-sized versions of the recommendation list, but you need to click a few times, as if the casual reader would bother. Because we are not afraid to be servicey, we've screenshotted the two pages for you. Enhance!
Oh. That still came out tiny,. You can also see them by clicking the little "Fullscreen" linky on our embed of the document in the previous section.
The list of additional resources includes links to a bunch of social service agencies, parent and youth groups, sex ed sites, and magazine articles like Teen Vogue's list of "20 LGBTQ+ Books for Teens Coming Out in 2020." And the list also includes links to a couple of sites where Rufo found sex toys and blog posts about actually doing sex, which he then proclaimed are being "recommended for kids," although again, the presentations were only for school staff, and there's nothing in the presentation saying "Hey, go visit all these sites with your students!" In fact, beyond existing as part of the slideshow, it's not clear what use, if any, presenters from Lurie made of the resources list during presentations in the schools.
Regardless, Rufo goes all out in insisting the external links are somehow central to the hospital's school outreach program, and that by linking to them in one version of a slideshow, Lurie Children's Hospital enthusiastically endorses every word and pixel on those sites. He's a master of bait and switch.
In his blog post (archive link), Rufo doesn't even specify that he's talking about a list of links, but instead uses lots of good ol' action verbs to suggest that the hospital took particular care to tell educators about all the scary things he found. We've bolded a few of his more weaselly claims in the excerpt below:
In at least two districts, the activists at Lurie Children’s Hospital also recommended that teachers offer a series of sexually explicit resources to children as young as 11. At the end of the “Beyond Binary” presentation circulated to teachers in District 75 and District 120, the hospital recommended a “Binder Exchange Program” to assist teenage girls in binding their breasts, a “kid friendly website for gender affirming gear,” which sells items such as artificial penis “packers” and female-to-male “trans masc pump[s],” and an “LGBTQ friendly sex shop for teens” that sells a range of “dildos,” “vibrators,” “harnesses,” “anal toys,” “trans-friendly toys,” and “kink & BDSM” equipment. The links include graphic descriptionsof sadomasochism, bondage, pornography, and transgressive sex.
Again, none of the horribles are in the presentation itself; they're all in the linked sites. The Chicago sex toy shop Early to Bed sells only to customers 18 and over, but yep, it sure does have a blog page about kink, too. On Twitter, Rufo alleges — again, based on a link in the resources list — that Lurie "promoted" FTM Essentials,
a "kid friendly website for gender affirming gear,” which sells items such as artificial penis “packers,” female-to-male “trans masc pump[s],” and “stand to pee devices” for minors.
We should note that, at least on the PDF from Rufo's site, the incomplete URL doesn't even work, so you'd really have to go looking to find the items Rufo claims the hospital is supposedly "promoting."
The goal here, of course, is to inspire horror of trans people, because look at how sick and perverted it is to bind your breasts to have a more masculine profile. Plenty of Rufo's fans no doubt assume that "binders" must also have something to do with "bondage."
Rufo also describes in loving gross-out, ew, people are SICK detail the items sold at Early to Bed, neglecting to mention that it sells only to people aged 18 and up, and again claiming that Lurie "promoted" the store as
an “LGBTQ friendly sex shop for teens” that sells a range of “dildos,” “vibrators,” “harnesses,” “anal toys,” “trans-friendly toys,” and “kink & BDSM” equipment. The site includes graphic descriptions of sadomasochism and bondage.
None of that stuff is in the slideshow, mind you, but the list of "resources" is there, so Lurie Children's Hospital may as well be selling sex toys for kids in its lobby. Even if the kids have to be over 18.
What Is 'Promotion' Anyway?
To be sure, the slideshow Rufo reproduces does indeed have those two businesses in the "resources" at the end, and honestly, if I were putting together a list for a presentation to school faculty, I'd leave them out for the sake of heading off attacks like Rufo's.
They're also, I'll note, just two out of the 39 items in the list — and Rufo doesn't bother trying to freak anyone out about the links to a (paywalled) Kansas City Star article about "Gender Neutral Restrooms in Schools" or to "Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook." The suggestion that the sex toy shop is "for teens" (Early 2 Bed) doesn't really clarify that the shop sells only to 18 and older. There's probably greater justification for including FTM Essentials, since for all of Rufo's attempt to make it sound scary, the items aren't sex toys — even if some of them look like peeners. But they sure SOUND exotic, which is the point.
Lurie Children's Hospital hasn't commented on any of this, so there's no telling why the two links are in there to start with. The only comment we've seen was an August 23 statement condemning the attacks on other children's hospitals that provide gender-affirming care, and it was published before Rufo's screed.
And again, does including a link in the endnotes really mean that the hospital is "promoting" or "recommending" or otherwise pushing these allegedly outrageous things? Rufo appears not to have any video or firsthand accounts from anyone who attended one of the presentations, so we don't know whether the presenters said "Be sure to copy this list and give it to all the underaged kids in every class" (pretty damned unlikely) or if, rushed for time, they may have simply gotten to the last two slides and said "Here's a list of local LGBTQ+ resources, it'll be in the PDF we're leaving with the school thankyouforcomingbye," or something in-between. Given that the actual slideshow focuses on creating welcoming spaces for kids, we seriously doubt any presenter ever shouted "BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE SEX TOYS!" (Another version of the presentation includes most of the same information, but has a more staid — and comprehensive — list of local and national resources like the ACLU and Chicago-area counseling services.)
And without the allegedly scary kinky stuff, all Rufo is left with is the usual set of fulminations about how, in discussing trans kids at all, Lurie Children's hospital
follows the basic narrative of academic queer theory: white, Western society has created an oppressive gender binary, falsely dividing the world into the categories of man and woman, that has resulted in “transphobia,” “cissexism,” and “systemic discrimination” against racial and sexual minorities.
And while he does offer plenty of manufactured outrage about promoting "a gender affirming approach" to curriculum, and of course the suggestion that confidentiality policies involve hiding a student's LGBTQ+ identity from parents, Rufo wouldn't be able drum up nearly as much outrage about that as he can by claiming that a major children's hospital is pushing kink, sex toys, and general degeneracy on children. That's certainly what all the rightwing media have been touting in their promotion — real promotion, not an endnote — of Rufo's panic-mongering, although some, like The Federalist, are also very het up at how the evil trans activists seek to destroy the family. Why yes, the BDSM and kink and sex toys feature prominently in that story, too.
As to the reaction this has stirred up, while we haven't seen any reports of death threats directed at Lurie staff, the online response has been about what you'd expect. One recent tweet about advances in preventing infections in premature babies was filled with replies calling the hospital staff "groomers" and "pedophiles," as one does when talking about saving babies' lives.
\u201cHere are just a few of the replies to this tweet about saving infants\u2019 lives:\u201d— Kat Abu (@Kat Abu) 1662041657
So everything's very normal in America, and now Rufo has moved on to attacking a planned Pride event in Boise, Idaho, that will feature a drag show for kids aged 11 to 18, oh the horror, boys dressed as girls with their hairy legs showing, it is the end of the world.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.