Missouri state health department officials earlier this year removed links to resources about youth and LGBTQ sexual health, records obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the Kansas City Star reveal.
The documents, which were released in response to a public records request, include emails from January in which Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Communications Director Lisa Cox instructed employees to delete the links from the department’s adolescent health information page. Other emails show DHSS staff discussing whether other resources were too “controversial” for Missouri, further illustrating the chilling effect of the wave of attacks on LGBTQ and reproductive rights — including Missouri’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors, trans student sports restrictions, and near-total ban on abortion.
The resources Cox directed to be removed included medical information for teenagers about sexual health, contraception, gender, relationships, and puberty, as well as links to low-cost sexual health providers and “resources for creating affirming learning environments for LGBTQ youth.” About 15 minutes after Cox sent the email, an information technologist with the Office of Administration responded that the resources had been removed. The links are no longer available on the website.
Other emails suggest a pattern of Missouri DHSS officials seeking to avoid sharing resources deemed to be politically charged, pointing to things like the use of gender-inclusive language in training materials related to childbirth and breastfeeding. One official noted that even restricting resources to government websites could present difficulties “because there could be times when the information on a federal level site [would] be controversial in MO.”
A former DHSS employee told the Star, “There was a lot of political pressure given the content of teen pregnancy prevention and just anything around LGBTQ health and wellness faced a lot of pressure to be censored.”
The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration had also quietly removed resources for LGBTQ youth from a state website. Since taking office in January 2022, the Post reported, Youngkin’s administration had removed public health resources on abortion, sexual health, and pregnancy, among other issues.
“With attacks on reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights on the rise, political concerns, including whether information about contraceptive methods and resources for transgender Missourians are too ‘controversial,’ are overriding the need to ensure that all Missourians have access to critical health care information,” American Oversight’s Executive Director Heather Sawyer told the Star.
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