If lawmakers have their way in Ohio, House Bill 658, The Parent’s Rights Bill, would force health care providers, counselors, and teachers to notify parents if a child describes him/her/themself as transgender or is questioning their gender identity. LGBTQ rights and protections continue to be taken away across the United States; HB 658 would set a precedent for other states to follow suit with similar bills.
The proposed legislation states: “If a government agent or entity has knowledge that a child under its care or supervision has exhibited symptoms of gender dysphoria or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner opposite of the child’s biological sex, the government agent or entity with knowledge of that circumstance shall immediately notify, in writing, each of the child’s parents and the child’s guardian or custodian.”
Let me translate: If a scared, depressed, and/or confused kid finally finds the strength to talk to a trusted adult, likely a teacher or coach, about the secret and shame that has been eating them alive, the person they tell will be required to divulge that secret to the parents that child was probably too terrified to tell in the first place. When a kid is finally ready to talk about the hate they have for their own body because it doesn’t match the gender they were assigned (gender dysphoria), and when a kid wants to express themselves in a way that feels more like a home they built than one they are renting (nonconforming gender expression), their identities will be stripped away again and given to their parents who will then choose who their child should be.
A bill like this would legally compel otherwise well-meaning adults to break a child’s trust, multiply their fear, extinguish their hope. If a child wanted to talk to someone at school they would be too afraid to speak up if they knew the adult they needed for counsel couldn’t keep their secret. Risk of self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide would skyrocket.
Thank God Republican Representatives Tom Brinkman and Paul Zeltwanger introduced this bill. Parents will have the right to reject or throw away their child before the child can find an ally.
Perhaps you are asking me to see the bright side. If I were the optimistic type, I could believe that these informed parents would use this knowledge to equip themselves with the tools necessary to support their transgender or non-binary child. Unconditional love would flow. Happy and healthy queer youth everywhere!
Statistics say otherwise. Facts are facts. So, let’s look at those.
Of the 40% of transgender adults who have attempted suicide, 92% were younger than 25 when they made their attempts. Youth. Transgender and LGB youth are at the highest risk for death by suicide; they are also the bulk of our homeless youth. 40% of the 1.6 million homeless adolescents and young adults identity as LGBTQ. And of those, 46% left because of their family’s inability to accept their gender identity or sexual orientation.
The argument of those who support HB 658, mostly religious organizations and republicans, is that parents “have the right to decide what is best for their children.” Here’s the thing though: Ohio already requires parental consent for a transgender child to take hormone blockers (which pauses puberty and are reversible), take hormone treatments of testosterone or estrogen (which allow a transgender person to develop characteristics opposite the gender they were assigned; most of those effects are reversible too), or have gender reassignment surgery (which doesn’t happen on children, and is not the definition of transition).
This bill is simply an invasion of privacy. It is a fear tactic that tells transgender kids they are not allowed to be anything but the cisgender and straight boys and girls society and God wants them to be. It is telling supportive adults they are not allowed to maintain confidentiality standards that are built into their professions. If a teacher or guidance counselor offers counseling for gender dysmorphia to a minor without the written consent of a parent or guardian, that provider could be charged with a fourth-degree felony.
This is all kinds of dangerous bullshit.
Transgender and non-binary or gender nonconforming kids will stay closeted and internally destroy themselves or they will be forced to come out after confiding in someone they believed they could trust. Even if parents are supportive, coming out is a big fucking deal. Taking that autonomy away from a kid is horrific because so much of coming out has to do with self-acceptance and being in control of one’s own life. Coming out is part of a transgender or queer person’s identity. It is ours to show, not anyone’s to take.
And if a parent isn’t supportive, they may decide the “best interest” of their child is abuse, identity denial, ultimatums, conversion therapy, or all of the above. Once a parent has been told something second hand, all consideration for their child has been set aside. The focus becomes on what the parent wants for their child and not how the child feels or what they desire for themselves. When a transgender kid confides in a trusted adult, what that child really wants is to be heard.
Parental support is one thing, but if a kid is outed news will spread beyond the four walls of a child’s home. Other students and their parents will know. Neighbors will know. A child’s whole community will be equipped with knowledge that could be used to harass, threaten, or physically hurt a transgender, non-binary, or gender nonconforming kid. A school in Oklahoma was recently shut down because parents threatened to cut off a transgender girl’s penis after she used the girl’s bathroom at school. And a 9-year-old boy in Colorado just died by suicide 4 days after coming out to his classmates. He was relentlessly bullied for being gay. He was 9.
We need to do so much better for these kids. We need to protect them, not out them. Our queer kids have every right to feel accepted, but they also have the right to stay under cover until they do. We need to keep them safe, not forced into sight. They are already vulnerable. This bill would add a target to their beautiful but fragile bodies.
In addition to many LGBTQ advocacy groups, the Ohio Education Association (OEA) has stated their opposition to HB 658. OEA represents 125,000 teachers and support professionals. Teachers listen. Guidance counselors listen. Coaches listen. Student LGBTQ and Straight alliance groups at schools are supposed to be safe spaces. Kids spend most of their time at home or at school; they need at least one of those two places to be a place of acceptance and refuge.
For a transgender or non-binary kid whose home environment is unsupportive or abusive, House Bill 658 would remove the one potential place that child was able to feel safe. And if there is any one human right that supersedes all others, it is the right to feel safe.
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