Federal law enforcement has arrested a suspect following a “hoax” bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital, which has faced a wave of harassing messages and threats of violence after far-right influencers and anti-trans activists promoted false claims about its gender-affirming care programme.
Catherine Leavy was arrested on 15 September. She faces one count of making a false bomb threat and remains in custody pending a detention hearing at noon on Friday.
On 30 August, she allegedly called the hospital and told the operator that “there is a bomb on the way to the hospital, you better evacuate everybody, you sickos,” according to federal prosecutors.
Law enforcement officials did not discuss a motive for the call but stressed that the hospital has endured “a sustained harassment campaign” against the hospital for its services for transgender patients and their families, according to US Attorney Rachael Rollins.
“Healthcare providers who support and offer care to gender diverse and transgender people and their families deserve to do so without fear,” she said.
The hospital has faced dozens of hoax threats, including harassing phone calls and emails, individual death threats and threats of mass casualty attacks, according to law enforcement officials.
There were at least two false bomb threats within the last month.
“This has caused a huge amount of angst, alarm and unnecessary expenditure of law enforcement resources,” according to FBI special agent in charge Joe Bonavolonta.
Last month, Boston Children’s Hospital reported receiving threatening phone calls and online messages after influential far-right social media personalities falsely claimed that the hospital performs gender-affirming hysterectomies on children under 18 years old.
A bomb threat followed on 30 August. A second threat was reportedly received on 9 September.
Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC also has been the target of an online harassment campaign over its gender-affirming care services.
Boston’s hospital is home to the Gender Multispecialty Service, the nation’s first pediatric and adolescent transgender healthcare programme. Only “eligible adolescents and young adults” can receive treatment, and “genital surgeries are only performed on patients age 18 and older”, according to the hospital.
Patients must be age 18 or older and have a letter from a medical doctor stating they have “persistent, well-documented, gender dysphoria” to be eligible for a hysterectomy, which is done only in connection with other affirming care and surgery, per hospital guidance.
The hospital also requires a letter from a mental health provider to ensure that the patient understands the “procedure and recovery needs, fertility implications of surgery, and risks of surgery”.
Care standards from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and other leading medical groups do not reccomend that the procedure be performed on minors.
The American Medical Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, among others, have established clinical guidelines to treat transgender young people, including counseling services, puberty-delaying medication and hormone therapies.
Meanwhile, volent posts on far-right message boards and social media platforms have reacted to claims about gender-affirming care with calls for doctors to be jailed or killed.
“While free speech is indeed the cornerstone of our great nation, fear, intimidation and threats are not,” US Attorney Rollins said in a statement last month responding to reports of threats facing Boston Children’s. “I will not sit idly by and allow hate-based criminal activity to continue in our district.”