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Backlash Over Harvard LGBTQ+ Healthcare Course Is Dangerously Ignorant

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There’s been a lot of conservative fear mongering lately about Harvard allegedly teaching medical students to care for gay infants—and we’re here to report that, of course, none of it is in fact true.

The subject of this ridiculous scare-queer conspiracy, reported on by such stalwarts as The Daily Mail (a newspaper, remember, so divorced from reality that wikipedia no longer considers them a viable source), is the Harvard Medical School Course “Caring for Patients with Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, and Sex Development.”

The cause of this hysteria—the idea that somehow Harvard and various medical professionals are projecting gay and trans identities onto pre-verbal infants—is that this course “will focus on serving gender and sexual minority people across the lifespan, from infants to older adults.” Various right-wing talking heads and anti-LGBTQ+ obsessives have latched onto this statement as proof of that projection, but that’s, of course, a completely invented scare tactic—not something that’s actually happening.

As anyone with basic reading comprehension skills can determine, the course doesn’t only apply to queer and trans patients but to intersex patients, as well. That’s what the “sex development” part of the course title refers to. Intersex people are often grouped together with LGBTQ people. That’s what the “i” is for when the LGBTQIA acronym is used, not only because some of their medical needs overlap with trans people’s, but because many of their social and political interests are aligned with LGBTQ+ people, as well.

The same stigma and discrimination that’s applied to trans people is also applied to intersex people, which frequently results in completely unnecessary and even harmful surgeries being performed on infants in order to “normalize” their genitalia. Such surgeries can result in lifelong health problems, ranging from recurrent UTIs and incontinence to infertility, but strangely, the same people citing “health concerns” in their attempts to block even adult trans people from accessing gender affirming care are largely silent on this.

Except, of course, it isn’t strange, because what the majority of those people want is to enforce a socially constructed sex and gender binary, and forcing those born outside of that binary to fit into it by medically mutilating them is essential to upholding it.

Including intersex people in a course designed to provide culturally competent care for gender and sexually diverse patients, along with the other gender and sexual minorities covered, makes perfect sense because of their intersecting needs. That the course covers infancy as well as early childhood is essential, as that is when intersex patients are most at risk of having their genitals mutilated for cosmetic reasons.

Frightened parents need accurate information about their children’s condition, what it means for them, and what medical interventions are actually necessary and what should be left up to the child as they get older. Such education is essential to combat the old attitude among parents and providers that intersex children need to be “fixed,” no matter the cost to the child. It has nothing to do with projecting a sexual or gender identity onto infants. In fact, it’s the opposite as it allows children with ambiguous sex characteristics to develop their identity naturally as they grow.

But scapegoating professionals attempting to provide safe and appropriate care for a vulnerable minority (intersex people make up about 1.7% of the population) in order to continue whipping up hate mobs against LGBTQ+ people is convenient and effective, so we’re going to keep on seeing more of it as this culture war continues.

(featured image: torbakhopper on Flickr)

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Siobhan Ball is a historian, an archivist, and loves Star Wars so much her English teacher once staged an intervention with her family to try and get her to read other books. She decided to go on and write about it for a living instead.