‘It’s the politicians who want to bully her’: Anti-trans legislation sparks anger, fear 

By: - July 27, 2022 10:27 am

Mark Makela/Getty Images

As the debate continues to swirl around proposed anti-trans legislation in Michigan and across the country, the people who are the targets of these efforts want their voices to be heard.

“I don’t understand how any kind of affirmative behaviors, getting medical treatment or treating people with human dignity, is a bad thing,” Katie Kilpatrick told the Michigan Advance.

Kilpatrick, of Birmingham, was recently featured in the #HateWontWin promotional campaign sponsored by the Equality Michigan Action Network, where she said any negativity about her daughter Fiona’s transitioning came from those who knew nothing about her.

“When she came out as transgender, I was worried how people would treat her,” she said in the video. “It turns out, the kids were great. It’s the politicians who want to bully her.” 

Currently more than 175 pieces of anti-transgender legislation in 32 states are being tracked by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization. 

Among them is a bill in Michigan that would effectively would ban transgender athletes from participating in school sports, by requiring schools to only permit students of the same assigned biological sex to compete against one another in school-sanctioned gender-specific athletics. 

It was sponsored by state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), who has a track record of targeting the transgender community. In April, she sent a fundraising email accusing three Democratic senators, including Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), of being “groomers” that “sexualize” children. That email said children were “under assault” by “Gender-bending indoctrination, confusing them about their identities.”

There are also anti-trans administrative efforts in states like Texas where the state’s attorney general issued an opinion that likened gender-affirming surgery to child abuse.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on teachers and doctors in the state, as well as the general public, to report parents who give their children gender-affirming care. 

With efforts like these on the rise, so too are the concerns of parents of trans kids, who worry just how far elected officials plan to insert themselves into what they feel are private medical decisions.

“These bills are just mind blowing because you wouldn’t keep a life-saving medication from a kid that needs it in a typical circumstance,” said Kilpatrick. “And in this case, they’re totally misinformed about gender-affirming care. It really leads me to know that they are not going to the legitimate sources of where this information is because as a parent of a transgender kid, of course I’ve read as much as I can know, I’m part of parent groups. I’m part of all the things so that I can give my kid the best information and choice as possible, because it’s ultimately her body that she’s going to be living with way beyond her adolescence.”

Someone who is keenly aware of that fact is Courtney, whose trans daughter Sabrina came out via a text at age 13. Courtney asked that Michigan Advance not use her family’s last name out of concerns about possible harassment.

It frightens me so much where we’re going as a country, where we’re going in treating our children. I’m so tired of anger defining my feelings about it. Honestly, I also feel kind of helpless. I really do, because I’ve seen so many kids suffer, and then when they find their way, that they stopped suffering. How many kids are going to go through this in the future, where they’re not going to have a way to survive?

– Courtney, whose daughter is transgender

“We didn’t quite believe her at first, but I knew that I had a very depressed child,” said Courtney. “I knew I had a child who was probably going to commit suicide at some point in time, very soon if I didn’t do anything, but I didn’t know why. And then she told me that she was transgender. She thought she was a girl.”

Courtney said while she was shocked, she knew she had to act and got Sabrina a therapist who was gender affirming. That began a process, in consultation with medical professionals, that resulted in her going on testosterone blockers at age 14 when puberty started and her voice started to drop. 

“It was terrifying to her and to me, but I will say that when she went on blockers, and on estrogen later on, she finally started becoming a happier kid,” Courtney said. “And actually even before that, I will say that just affirming her and using the pronouns made a real difference. She started smiling, which I hadn’t seen her smile in forever.”

Having experienced the positive change in Sabrina’s mental health and well-being, Courtney said she is both angered and scared that politicians are interfering in ways that will end up harming kids and not helping them.

“It’s terrifying to me that these kids would not get the treatment they need, and in the sports sense that they don’t get to play on the team that they identify, as that’s what leads to suicides,” said Courtney. “It frightens me so much where we’re going as a country, where we’re going in treating our children. I’m so tired of anger defining my feelings about it. Honestly, I also feel kind of helpless. I really do, because I’ve seen so many kids suffer, and then when they find their way, that they stopped suffering. How many kids are going to go through this in the future, where they’re not going to have a way to survive?”

Equality Michigan Director Erin Knott at the announcement of non-discrimination legislation, June 4, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Erin Knott, Executive Director of Equality Michigan, says it is not at all hyperbole to say that lives are being put at risk with this type of legislation.

“Anti-trans rhetoric and bills send a message to our trans and nonbinary kids in Michigan. Tragically, these bills help normalize homophobia and transphobia, which can lead to the death or LGBTQ+ youth,” said Knott.

Knott pointed to the Trevor Projects 2022 survey on LGBTQ youth mental health, in which it was determined 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. 

The survey also found nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates than their white peers. Additionally, LGBTQ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not. 

For Courtney’s daughter Sabrina, who is now an adult, it is beyond upsetting at the thought of lawmakers going out of their way to eliminate options for people like herself to discover who they are and become their authentic selves.

“Why do you care?” Sabrina asks. “And even if you do care, why should you get a say if it doesn’t affect you? That’s like, if my neighbor decides to get a new TV, I don’t see that TV. It’s not my house, not my TV. Why would I get a say in their TV unless they asked me about it? It doesn’t affect anyone other than trans people. So trying to outlaw it doesn’t make any sense because nobody is getting hurt from it. Trans people aren’t suffering because of being trans, they’re suffering from not being able to get the care that they need.”

Whether the anti-trans legislation and other efforts come from a central misunderstanding of the issues or a cynical manipulation of political forces, the language being used is often at odds with scientific fact.

For example, Theis’ bill to ban transgender athletes from high school sports defines biological sex as “the physical condition of being male or female as determined by an individual’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.”

Yet, such a binary definition fails to acknowledge the complexity of what determines biological sex in humans. Newly fertilized embryos have no indication of sex when they initially develop, the Scientific American explains. That process plays out over the next several weeks and involves precisely timed gene expressions. When that timing is off, as sometimes happens, the reproductive organs can exhibit characteristics of the opposite sex. 

Add in the additional complexity of the brain’s role as it develops and research that refutes the idea of genetically-fixed hormonal systems, it becomes clear that using the visually observable signs of gender at birth as the sole basis for determining biological sex is simply not a reliable method.

Scientific explanations aside, Kilpatrick says the practical effect of these types of bills is to deny medical care to her daughter Fiona.

“Why is this the target when there are so many other things that we need to accomplish and focus on?” Kilpatrick asked. “As a parent, it’s scary. Are we going to be able to get the things that I need for my kid to help her live? That’s what it comes down to. That’s why I’m doing all this, because she needs to be able to make some choices here pretty soon. And I want her to be able to make those choices for herself and have every opportunity at whatever those choices are.”

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Equality Michigan provides a variety of services for members of the LGBTQ+ community in crisis. All services are free and confidential and can be accessed by calling (313) 537-7000.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

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