Voice for the Vulnerable: Catholic Pediatrician Spearheads Pushback Against ‘Gender Care’ for Minors

Dr. Jill Simons, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, explains why these treatments are medically unsound, and why she has been impelled to engage with this hot-button issue.

Dr. Jill Simons at MBEC 2024. Drawn to medicine by her love of science and her exposure to her father’s veterinary practice, Simons said she began thinking about specializing in pediatrics after watching a nephew go through cancer treatment at the age of 5.
Dr. Jill Simons at MBEC 2024. Drawn to medicine by her love of science and her exposure to her father’s veterinary practice, Simons said she began thinking about specializing in pediatrics after watching a nephew go through cancer treatment at the age of 5. (photo: Courtesy photo)

When Dr. Jill Simons went to a popular pediatrics conference nearly a decade ago expecting to hear about infectious diseases and cardiac treatment, she was amazed to discover “gender care” was a dominant topic.

At the time, Simons was not seeing a huge percentage of patients with gender dysphoria in her practice, nor had it been a key part of her training. Yet, she said, “Here I was at a conference and they’re talking about bringing back gender clinics and treating kids for this.” 

Meanwhile, she was finding pediatric journals full of articles about the same thing. “It really seemed that they were not accurately representing what was going on out there or what was needed,” she said. 

As Simons considered how to respond to what she saw as a disturbing trend in her field, she learned about the American College of Pediatricians, a group she now serves as executive director. 

While driving to the hospital for rounds one morning, she happened to catch an interview on her car radio with Dr. Michelle Cretella, who then was the organization’s executive director. “I heard her say kids shouldn’t be on puberty blockers,” Simons said. She immediately pulled over to the side of the road to listen and take notes. 

In contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), founded in 2002, does not support such treatments for gender dysphoria as social affirmation, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. 

Earlier this month, ACPeds joined other groups in a Doctors Protecting Children coalition to call for an end to such treatments for children, claiming they have not been proven effective and may be harmful to patients. Coalition members are urging the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical professional organizations to discontinue their support for such care for children and adolescents who experience distress over their biological sex.  

Simons said the trend toward so-called “gender-affirming care” for children represents the biggest change in her specialty of pediatrics since she graduated from medical school and completed her residency, both at the University of Wisconsin. “This is why I’m very passionate about the transgender ideology that is going on right now,” she told the Register. 


A Calling to Caring

Drawn to medicine by her love of science and her exposure to her father’s veterinary practice, Simons said she began thinking about specializing in pediatrics after watching a nephew go through cancer treatment at the age of 5. 

“I come from a large family but we’re very close and I was very close to my nieces and nephews,” she said. “I spent a lot of time at the children’s hospital helping my sister. My nephew ended up cancer-free to this day and healthy, though we did not expect him to make it several times. I remember being in the children’s hospital and thinking, ‘This is where I want to be, where I can make a difference.’” 

Although this was well before Simons went to medical school, pediatrics always was in the back of her mind as she pursued her studies. “I really wanted to help children,” she said. 

That desire was challenged during the last year of her residency when she cared for a young patient with meningococcal meningitis, a rare and serious bacterial infection. 

“It kills a lot of kids and if it doesn’t kill, they can lose arms, legs, fingers, toes,” Simons said, adding, “We don’t have a lot of good treatments that can keep up with it.” 

After several nights with the entire intensive-care unit trying to rally around the patient and her family, Simons remembers thinking, “I never want to see this again.” Then, she thought, “No, this is why we’re here. This is difficult and I can do this.”

When the patient survived, though not without complications, Simons said, “I realized there’s a lot in medicine that is just beyond us. As a Catholic, I know God is in control and our bodies are so much more advanced than we can understand, and sometimes you have to be there with what you can do and just trust in God. It’s kind of when I decided this is going to be difficult, but I need to be there for patients like that.” 


Advocate for Children and Parents

She sees her role as a pediatrician as one of being an advocate for children and a voice for the vulnerable and for parents. As a parent herself (she and her physician husband are the parents of twins), Simons told the Register, “I think having kids helps you see how vulnerable kids are and it makes me want to make the world a better place. It sounds corny, but I want to set a good example for speaking up for people who can’t speak up.” 

This has fueled her determination to work against the current protocols being advanced for the care of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria. Initially, Simons said, her interest in “gender-affirming care” was focused on the science and the facts. 

She added, “But as I’ve gotten involved and heard the stories of children who are being affected, that’s what keeps me going and speaking out so that no more children and no more families have to go through this.” 

She also has been moved by the plight of young adults who have decided to “detransition” from gender changes and are now speaking out against the treatments they underwent. Although they are often ignored or discredited, she said, “Their stories are so powerful because when they tell them and tell them to people not familiar with the issue, you can’t dismiss them. We want to help get their voices out and make sure that when we’re urging a stop to this that there are places for them to go and get medical care if they desist and want to get back to health.” 

In trying to spread the word, however, Simons said the American College of Pediatricians has often run into a brick wall of efforts to silence and discredit any voices that challenge the current modes of treatment. Indeed, the organization has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which applies the label to groups that “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Simons’ organization flatly denies it has ever maligned anyone or engaged in attacks against a group of people.


Reliable Medical Information

Although Simons said the organization’s members believe their views on gender care place them in the majority and that most physicians do not support the treatments in question, they knew they had to step up their efforts and widen their reach if they were to be effective.

After many discussions, ACPeds launched a “Biological Integrity” initiative to provide reliable medical information on gender dysphoria for parents, teens, physicians, schools and policymakers. The group also decided to form the Doctors Protecting Children coalition, which released its declaration June 6. 

Simons, who was part of the task force of physicians that drafted the declaration, said what kicked it into high gear was the release of leaked internal emails from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in which doctors expressed doubts about the association’s standards of transgender care, and a report by Dr. Hilary Cass to England’s National Health Service that led to a decision to stop prescribing puberty blockers to adolescents outside of clinical trials. 

When both were seemingly ignored by major medical organizations in the U.S., Simons said the American College of Pediatricians solidified its coalition and made plans to release the declaration.

Simons told the Register the response to the Doctors Protecting Children declaration has been incredible. It has been signed by thousands of individuals, including physicians and other health-care workers, and organizations from 57 countries. 

“Clearly, this is not a fringe group of doctors,” she said. “It’s a large number and growing.”

Links to the declaration and the press conference were picked up on social media and one that was reposted on X, formerly Twitter, by X owner Elon Musk has since drawn 44 million views. 

“It touched on an issue that people are very interested in discussing and want to see action,” Simons said. “The comments we get on social media are ‘thank you,’ ‘it’s about time’ and ‘finally.’ People are looking for an opening to start talking about this and I’m glad we could provide the leadership.”