CLAIM: A class at Harvard Medical School trains students to treat transgender infants.
THE FACTS: The course is a month-long elective about health care for LGBTQ patients. Only one day focuses on infants and it does not cover their gender identity or sexual orientation, the class’s professor told The Associated Press. In recent days, conservative websites and online commentators have distorted the content of the class, as social media users point to it as an extreme example of gender-affirming health care.
“Harvard is teaching medical students about transgender infants,” wrote one Twitter user, whose post had gained almost 10,000 likes as of Tuesday. But these claims misrepresent what the class actually teaches about infants. The course — titled “Caring for Patients with Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, and Sex Development” — teaches only about the physical development of babies who are born intersex, according to Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, the associate professor who teaches the class. The term intersex describes people born with reproductive organs, hormones or other traits that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female. These conditions may or may not be noticeable at birth, explained Dr. Arlene Baratz, who is the medical and research affairs coordinator for the intersex advocacy group InterConnect. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity — whether they feel like a girl, boy, neither or both — differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. The term transgender is not synonymous with intersex.
Parents and families of intersex children “have questions about health implications of these physical variations,” Keuroghlian told the AP. “Medical students need to know how to provide this care.”
As part of the course, students also study how to care for non-infant patients and focus on disciplines such as psychiatry, endocrinology, dermatology and infectious disease. Physical differences in an intersex infant’s genitals “can be obvious in a newborn and usually triggers a cascade of medical attention including an evaluation to discover the underlying cause,” Baratz wrote in an email.
Sean Saifa Wall, a co-founder of the Intersex Justice Project, said that an infant’s physical sex characteristics are apparent long before they have a sense of what gender is, or which gender they feel like. He said conservative critics were “purposefully conflating” the two. Older children who experience gender dysphoria — feelings of distress about their assigned gender — may seek out transition-related health care to relieve those feelings once they’ve reached puberty. But surgeries and hormones are not given to young children or infants for this purpose, despite some misleading rhetoric.