The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK announced plans on July 28 to close Tavistock Centre, the only gender identity specialist clinic for children and young people in the UK. Media in the UK, the US, and elsewhere responded with news coverage that showed signs of biases in favor of and against gender transition treatments.
The closure comes after a report from Dr. Hilary Cass about the sustainability of Tavistock’s approach. She states that “the mix of young people presenting to the service is more complex than seen previously, with many being neurodiverse and/or having a wide range of psychosocial and mental health needs,” and emphasizes the need for data collection on these cases. Dr. Cass also says that there isn’t a broad consensus on how to treat Gender Dysphoria and that because “within the UK, the single specialist service has developed organically, the clinical approach has not been subjected to some of the usual control measures that are typically applied when new or innovative treatments are introduced.”
She suggests a different service model is needed to treat those with gender identity issues and that there should be a move to increase transparency and treat children with Gender Dysphoria and gender incongruence with the same standard of care that other minors receive.
What the Left Highlighted
- Long wait times
- The new healthcare system for trans youth
Where They Agree
- Tavistock Clinic wasn’t working
What the Right Highlighted
- Side effects of puberty blockers
- Spike in girls and autistic people with Gender Dysphoria
- US trans policies vs other nations
Views From the Left
Left-rated news sources focused on the wait times trans children had to endure to receive gender-affirming treatment and chose not to emphasize the concerns about the treatments themselves that Cass and others have introduced.
The New York Times (Lean Left), in its article, “England Overhauls Medical Care for Transgender Youth” explains the main takeaways from the report and includes concerns about the spike in demand saying, “When the clinic opened, it primarily served children who were assigned male at birth. Last year, two-thirds of its patients were assigned female at birth.” Using the term “female at birth” can be perceived as a left-leaning word choice and displays word choice bias.
Cass also writes in her report that there are “Critically unanswered questions” about the effects of puberty blockers. The NYT bookends this quote by inserting its more positive view of puberty blockers, stating, “Puberty blockers, which are largely reversible, are intended to buy younger patients time to make weighty decisions about permanent medical changes.” This is an unsubstantiated claim because there is some debate about how reversible the effects of puberty blockers are and in this case, the NYT provides no sources to back up this perspective.
The article then quotes trans activists, who are optimistic that a new system could provide faster healthcare, but have concerns about the prioritization of mental health over medical intervention. The article paraphrased remarks from Susie Green, head of trans activist group Mermaids: “Gender diversity, she said, should not be treated as a mental disorder. We would not want any further barriers to be put in place in terms of access to medical intervention.”
Sweden and Finland, historically progressive countries, have also made moves to limit trans healthcare interventions on children, according to the NYT. They compare these restrictions to some conservative states in the US, saying that European countries are still far more permissive than Alabama or Texas, but the standards in Europe cause concern that they could “bolster the notion that gender treatments are dangerous for young people.” This emphasizes that the NYT believes these treatments to be entirely safe, omitting doctors who speak to the contrary.
The Daily Beast (Left) similarly covered the story. Like the NYT, they quoted Dr. Cass’s study and the advocacy group Mermaid, with an emphasis on how the new system will be able to better serve trans kids. One thing to note is that The Daily Beast buries the statistics about the major increase in young girls and those on the autism spectrum seeking gender care at the very bottom of the article, amounting to bias by viewpoint placement.
The Intelligencer, a section of New York Magazine (Left bias), tells a slightly different story, one of a trans teen named Luke who has been waiting 7 years to receive hormone therapy. The article opens with a description of the symptoms Luke faces daily as a result of puberty blockers. While some on the right may frame this as a reason puberty blockers are unsafe, Intelligencer frames it as a necessary side effect of not receiving care sooner.
Throughout the Intelligencer article, the term gender-diverse is used to describe children — another example of word choice bias. As the reader learns more about Luke, it’s revealed he was a self-described “girly-girl” growing up and did not have any discomfort in his body until he hit puberty, and shortly after, he learned about Gender Dysphoria on YouTube. Some may perceive this as a case of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, but Intelligencer does not address that perspective. Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is not a diagnosis, but a hypothesis in a 2019 study that has been a crucial piece of literature on the right and disputed by many on the left.
The article also digs into Bell V. Tavistock, a consequential court case in the UK that determined children under sixteen could not consent to puberty blockers. The case was eventually overturned citing that the decision belongs to clinicians rather than courts. In regards to the case, the Intelligencer says that puberty blockers have no effect on fertility, but may have some effect on sexual functioning. It supports this with quotations from doctors, but only cites doctors who support the use of puberty blockers and omitting any medical professionals who are against giving children blockers.
At seventeen, after six years of waiting, Luke receives his first small dose of hormone treatment. Intelligencer says “The Cass report also criticized the slow pace of the treatment received by patients like Luke, but it has yet to come down on either side of the debate about blockers and hormones,” minimizing Cass’s reservations about the lack of data on some of the treatments these children are receiving.
Views From the Right
Outlets on the right broadly used Cass’s report to cherry-pick findings that support their stance on trans issues and emphasized caution when prescribing gender identity treatments.
The article honed in on the idea the clinic was “not safe” and said, “The Cass review confirmed much of what was already known – that clinicians at the Tavistock are under pressure to ‘affirm’ a child’s new gender identity, and that the puberty-blocking drugs that are prescribed to this end are largely experimental.”
The article goes on to mention past whistleblowers, including Dr. David Bell, and his claims that many of the youth showing up to these clinics may be gay rather than trans.
Spiked goes on to support the stance that puberty blockers should not be used. Stating,
“Though they are often said to delay the onset of puberty to let children ‘pause’ and think before potentially transitioning to the opposite gender, Cass has found no evidence of this. As she wrote in the letter to NHS England, published this week, it is just as likely that these drugs ‘disrupt [the] decision-making process’, potentially making it more likely that young people will move on to cross-sex hormones…As Cass puts it: ‘Brain maturation may be temporarily or permanently disrupted by puberty blockers, which could have a significant impact on the ability to make complex risk-laden decisions, as well as possible longer-term neuropsychological consequences.’”
In the last sections of the article, Spiked claims that whistleblowers are smeared as transphobic and people have stopped coming forward out of fear. They omitted anyone who genuinely believes that some of these whistleblowers are transphobic figures who are not trying to protect kids.
In an article from Common Sense, “The Beginning of the End of Gender-Affirming Care,” writer Lisa Selin Davis echoes the multitude of whistleblowers preceding Cass, before shifting to what this means for US politics. “The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people,” she writes.
She focuses on how the data about girls with multiple psychiatric diagnoses being the largest demographic wanting to transition was alarming and signaled to Sweden and Finland to reevaluate their healthcare policies, while in America these statistics are largely seen as signs of progress and a dissipating stigma. She points out that the lack of data on detransitioners in the US and lack of non-partisan studies of these treatments as support for the US making trans issues into a culture war rather than following the data as, she says, other countries in the west are doing.
In The Daily Caller’s (Right bias) piece on Tavistock, the outlet sensationalizes Cass’s claims stating (emphasis ours), “An independent review found that medical professionals at Tavistock transgender clinic were pressured to unquestioningly affirm children’s gender identities and skip the normal clinical assessment process, prompting the NHS to shut down the clinic by spring 2023.”
The Daily Caller focuses its piece on criticism of the Biden administration, saying they have endorsed and empowered minors to get gender-affirming care. It refers to transgender hormones and surgeries as “child sex changes” in another example of word choice bias. It also claims Biden officials use the term “gender-affirming care” as a euphemism for sex changes including surgeries. Interpreting gender-affirming care as surgeries on children, without a clear indication that that is the person’s belief is a case of mind-reading.
Both sides agreed that the system of Tavistock was not working, but for different reasons.
The right often does not want top-down one-size-fits-all healthcare because they believe gender transitions should not happen except for in extreme cases, while many on the left want more healthcare options to enable them to get faster treatment. While the right and left took hugely different perspectives away from the Tavistock report, both seemed happier with the idea to have multiple treatment clinics across the UK.
Regardless of which side you agree with more, AllSides encourages you to read Dr. Cass’s report and make judgments for yourself, in addition to using our balanced news curation to see more diverse perspectives on this issue. Just taking the opinion of any of the above sources at face value would likely leave you with an incomplete picture of the issue at hand.
Clare Ashcraft is the Bridging & Bias Assistant at AllSides. She has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed by Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), Research Manager & Data Journalist Andrew Weinzierl (Lean Left bias), News Research Assistant Ethan Horowitz (Lean Right Bias)