The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) kicked off its 27th annual conference in Montreal on Saturday night with a keynote address from Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who identifies as a transgender woman.
Levine’s speech, complete with a “call to action,” comes off more as an activist manifesto than what you would typically expect from a conference of medical professionals. Levine called on the audience to think of themselves as “ambassadors for science” and insisted on a “proactive” rather than “passive” approach to educating the masses.
“Our task quite simply is to educate the public in the United States and throughout the world, in as many forms as possible,” Levine proclaimed. “We have the power to expand the boundaries of science and of public understanding.”
The president of WPATH, Dr. Walter Bouman, and president-elect Dr. Marci Bowers, led the opening ceremony with a few words before they were interrupted by a group of activists who took over the podium with a banner and a prepared speech: “We’re just going to crash the party, no offense to anybody meant,” said one activist, while several others raised the banner. WPATH officials cut off the feed to their livestream for several minutes during the unplanned demonstration.
The livestream commenced as the activists were listing their demands, which included “Adoption of the Standards of Care, free of psychomedical barriers, and entirely based on autonomy and informed consent,” as one “transfeminine” activist read aloud to an approving audience. “We want free access to all trans-affirmative care,” they continued, as the conference attendees cheered. Bouman and Bowers stood by, nodding their heads in approval of the interruption.
The activists also demanded universal medical coverage for trans-identifying immigrants, regardless of immigration status, and an end to the “criminalization of sex work.” Their last request was for the “recognition of transfeminicide as an international humanitarian crisis,” for which the conference attendees gave a standing ovation.
Dr. Marci Bowers, a surgeon who specializes in genital surgeries for transgender patients and identifies as a transgender woman, reclaimed the podium. Bowers was featured in The Daily Wire documentary “What is a Woman,” and admitted to performing vaginoplasty surgery on minors as young as 16. Bowers announced her appointment as the first “transfeminine person” to be elected President of WPATH in its 43-year history.
Levine took to the stage after a lengthy introduction from Bowers. “I truly stand on the shoulders of those who came before me,” said Levine. “As we all know, progress brings new and inevitable challenges.”
“I’ve heard from parent after parent, family after family, who have either considered moving to different states in the United States or have moved so that their child can access the medical care they need and deserve,” began Levine. “These stories are heartbreaking. It is critically important that medical decisions and the public pronouncements of them are based on science and human compassion rather than slander and stigmatization.”
But contrary to Levine’s claims, “the science” is not settled on transgender medicine. The Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine (SEGM), an international group of more than 100 clinicians and researchers, responded to “the science” deployed in WPATH’s new official guidelines. SEGM wrote a critique in January 2022, citing the potential for harm due to WPATH’s lack of methodological rigor and very low-quality evidence.
WPATH says its guidelines were written “based on available evidence” but cite flawed, cherry-picked studies to support their conclusions. “The current description of the literature betrays a strong bias toward studies promoting social and medical transition,” said SEGM.
Levine makes the false assertion that transgender youth don’t have underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to or causing their dysphoria, claiming that “It is the bullying, it is the harassment, the discrimination that transgender youth face that leads to these outcomes.”
“Gender-affirming care is medical care. Gender-affirming care is mental health care. Simply put, gender-affirming care is suicide prevention care,” continued Levine. But while “gender affirmation” treatment may sound innocuous, in practice this amounts to allowing children to dictate the terms of their own sex change.
The “suicide prevention” Levine refers to is the “affirm-or-suicide” myth, a debunked claim that says trans-identified minors are more likely to commit suicide if they are denied “gender affirming” medical treatments. Studies claiming that “trans” youth are at elevated risk of suicide commonly compare their “trans” cohort to mentally healthy teenagers who don’t identify as trans. But when researchers compared “trans” youth to teens with similar mental health problems, but not including gender dysphoria, there was little difference in suicide rates, suggesting that withholding “gender affirming” care is not a driver of suicidal ideation.
“It is wrong to politicize medical care,” continued Levine, who then went on to advocate for the politicization of medicalized gender transition, with the full support of the Biden administration.
Levine refers to the laws enacted to protect youth from accessing irreversible medical procedures as “anti-LGBTQ policies,” and in an attempt to rally the crowd said, “So I have a call to action. This is a call to action for all of you. I firmly believe that as a society, we have not made progress unless we have made progress for all.”
Levine insists that a “proactive” rather than “passive” response is necessary. “Our mission as doctors, as other medical professionals, psychological professionals, and really the diversity that we have in this room of professionals, must include a proactive approach rather than merely a passive rejection of intolerance,” said Levine.
“We have the ability to share information to speak with the authority that our training and our experiences have given us, and to work together to assert our right to practice medicine as we were taught,” Levine continued. “I encourage all of you in the United States and throughout the world to think of yourselves as ambassadors, ambassadors for science, ambassadors for compassion, and ambassadors for care.”
“These conversations should not just be restricted to medical settings,” Levine instructed. “Please offer yourselves as information or resources, not just for youth, but for school teachers, principals, professional organizations, and recreation centers, many would benefit from having this information, even if they themselves are not involved in these decisions. So please proactively seek out opportunities to speak about what you know.”
“Our task quite simply is to educate the public in the United States and throughout the world, in as many forms as possible. We have to have conversations that question the assumptions that people make that underlie these attacks on trans and nonbinary people. Educating people sometimes means asking them questions in addition to just giving them answers, we must push back the veil of ignorance. And this demands extra efforts and as a challenge for WPATH and for all of us,” Levine said.
WPATH’s annual conference in Montreal ends on September 20.