FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL: Local media outlets have come under fire in recent years for buying into activists’ framing and talking points on so-called gender-affirming care — attempted transgender sex-change operations, hormonal interventions, and social affirmations, even for minors.

Emails obtained by the organization Do No Harm, an organization which combats gender ideology in the medical profession, provide a look at how that type of story is crafted. Do No Harm obtained a June 15 exchange between Capital Times reporter Erin McGroarty, who specializes in “investigating disinformation” for the newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, and Sara Benzel, media manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Health, a medical organization that offers “gender-affirming care” for children.

McGroarty, who did not personally respond to requests for comment, asked for information to “counter” the messaging put out by the pro-family organization Wisconsin Family Action. That messaging highlighted the dangers of administering cross-sex hormones to young people and condemned a Dane County, Wisconsin, resolution to declare itself a “sanctuary county” for individuals who identify as transgender.

In the June 15 press release, Wisconsin Family Action referenced the possibility that minors may be sterilized through the use of cross-sex hormones. (For example, a young woman injecting herself with testosterone in attempts to become a boy might find herself unable to have children later in life.)

That is acknowledged by the very medical institutions that offer “gender-affirming care” for children. For example, as The Daily Wire reported, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ parent or guardian consent form states, “If your child starts puberty blockers in the earliest stages of puberty, and then goes on to gender-affirming hormones, they will not develop sperm or eggs. This means that they will not be able to have biological children.”

‘What I’m Hoping to Get From You’

“We spoke a while back when I was working on a story for Our Lives magazine on the UW Health gender services clinic,” McGroarty wrote in her email to UW Health. “I’m working for Cap Times now as a disinformation reporter. I’m helping our local government reporter, Ali Garfield, on a story she’s writing about the county ordinance to make Dane County a sanctuary county for trans and nonbinary people.”

McGroarty then reveals why she is reaching out: She wants UW Health to condemn Wisconsin Family Action and to confirm her claim that children are not getting surgeries.

“Wisconsin Family Action has put out a statement full of false claims about the types of procedures that are being performed on trans and nonbinary youth,” she wrote. “What I’m hoping to get from you is just a brief statement clarifying that no, in fact, minors are not getting genital surgery and only in extremely rare cases are older adolescents getting top surgery and only after extensive psychiatric screening and parental consent.”

McGroarty explicitly admits that she wants to “counter” Wisconsin Family Action’s messaging ahead of a local meeting that evening: “Their claims are that children are getting genital and top surgery and sterilizations, all of which we know is false. Just a brief statement clarifying what is allowed for minors and the parameters within that, and what isn’t performed would be great for us to be able to include to counter whatever I’m sure they will claim when they testify at the meeting tonight.”

Removing Breasts of Up to 10 Girls Yearly

UW Health gave McGroarty a statement, Do No Harm’s Freedom of Information Act request found.

That statement actually reveals that UW Health does indeed perform “top surgeries,” or mastectomies, on minors (five to 10 per year, to be exact).

“In December 2022, of the approximately 315 patients at UW Health’s pediatric and adolescent transgender health (PATH) clinic, about 40% are on puberty blockers or hormones,” Benzel said in a June 15 statement to McGroarty.

The statement denies that UW Health performs “bottom surgeries” (such as the removal of a biological boy’s genitalia or creating fake genitalia on a biological girl) or “breast augmentation” surgeries on children before admitting that it does remove the healthy breasts of young women:

UW Health does not perform and has never performed bottom surgery or breast augmentation surgery on minors. Top surgery (mastectomy) for patients under age 18 is rare and considered only after multidisciplinary evaluation, long-term engagement in mental health care and a requisite letter from their primary therapist, duration of hormonal therapy if indicated, and consent from legal guardian(s). Approximately five to 10 older teenage patients under the age of 18 receive top surgery at UW Health per year.

Surprisingly, McGroarty doesn’t address or ask about the five to 10 young girls getting their breasts removed every year.

She instead thanks Benzel for her help and tells her: “I’ll connect with you again on Monday about the longer story I’m considering writing regarding larger trends in disinformation surrounding gender-affirming care.”

And when Benzel asks McGroarty to add the following to her statement, “We support efforts that protect and advance the health of trans and gender nonbinary youth and enable us to provide needed care to our patients,” McGroarty replies, “Will do!”

The Published Story

On June 16, the Capital Times published a story on the topic with the headline, “Dane County becomes transgender ‘sanctuary’ despite opposition.” The article was written by a different reporter, Allison Garfield, but it included parts of the statement that McGroarty obtained from UW Health.

The article did not, however, include some key details.

Garfield did not mention that UW Health is removing the healthy breasts of five to 10 young women every year. She did, however, emphasize that UW Health does not perform “bottom surgeries” on minors, a claim that Wisconsin Family Action does not appear to have made.

Garfield also swung at Wisconsin Family Action, accusing the organization of making “false claims” that children are undergoing procedures “resulting in sterilization”—a claim commonly expressed by groups advocating for the protection of children from dangerous hormonal treatment.

Benzel, who did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Signal, similarly did not address the possibility that hormone treatment can result in sterilization in her statements to the Capital Times.

In a statement to The Daily Signal on behalf of the Capital Times and its reporters, Capital Times editor Mark Treinen wrote that the publication was responding to Wisconsin Family Action’s assertions that “children are undergoing medical procedures that ‘result in sterilization.’”

Like his reporters, Treinen seemed to misunderstand or ignore that putting children on hormones may result in their sterilization. Instead, he focused on “bottom surgeries.” He did not return further requests for comment on that point.

“Doctors in Dane County, and across the country, say they act in accordance with medical standards that do not condone the performance of bottom surgeries (phalloplasties or vaginoplasties) that [Wisconsin Family Action] was claiming are being performed,” Treinen said. “As a news organization that seeks to provide accurate and factual information to our community, we believe our journalists have a responsibility to counter false information that is presented as fact.”

But Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, emphasized to The Daily Signal that her organization has drawn attention to the dangers of cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers for years.

“It’s unfortunate that local liberal media choose to often misrepresent our statements on this very sensitive issue of how minors are being counseled and advised relative to gender confusion,” Appling said. “That a ‘disinformation reporter’ has done this is especially disturbing.”

Mary Margaret Olohan is a senior reporter for The Daily Signal and a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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