A mother of five kids is suing her 17-year-old transgender child — along with the teen’s supportive school district, school principal, and various local health service providers — after the teen transitioned from male to female without her mom’s express permission.
“If this had been a child custody case, I would’ve had my day in court,” the mom, Anmarie Calgaro of St. Louis, Minn., said in a press conference that was broadcast Wednesday through Facebook Live. Speaking at times through tears, and always referring to her child as “my son” and “he,” despite the teen’s transition to female, Calgaro noted, “It was brought to my knowledge that my son began receiving hormone replacement treatments from Park Nicollet Health Services to transition from male to female, with medical assistance paying for this. I was not consulted or informed about this in any way.”
Calgaro added that she had been “robbed” of her rights and responsibilities as a parent and that her teen has been “robbed of a key advocate in his life: his mother.” The Facebook post adds, “Anmarie, her family, and her son have been grievously harmed by this unconstitutional collusion of groups that exclude her from the on-going medical, physical, and emotional care and education of her own child.”
But while Calgaro and her lawyers, including one from the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, are representing the case as being strictly about the erosion of parental rights, transgender equality activists view it more symbolically — and part of a larger conservative movement that aims to chip away at the rights of transgender youth to access medical care across the country.
“The real goal of this suit is for the case to be a lightning rod for conservatives everywhere … and it is attached to bans on transgender youth care,” Jenn Burleton, executive director of the national TransActive Gender Center, based in Portland, Ore., tells Yahoo Beauty.
Burleton says her organization has been in touch with the youth (referred to as “J.D.K.” in the lawsuit) to lend support, but would not share any details of the situation in order to protect her privacy. She also believes, along with other advocates, there are other goals at play in Calgaro’s case: to chip away at the rights of youths, in some states, to attain abortions without parental consent, as well as to make it easier for parents to subject their children to gay conversion therapy.
“The mom,” Burleton says, “is a pawn.”
The lawsuit names not only J.D.K, but also Park Nicollet Health Services, which would not comment on the case, and the St. Louis County School District, where no one was available to comment on Friday because of a snowstorm that sent staff members home early.
At issue in the lawsuit is Minnesota Statute 144.341, which allows minors living away from parents, in many cases, to give their own medical consent. The statute says that “any minor who is living separate and apart from parents or legal guardian, whether with or without the consent of a parent or guardian and regardless of the duration of such separate residence, and who is managing personal financial affairs, regardless of the source or extent of the minor’s income, may give effective consent to personal medical, dental, mental and other health services, and the consent of no other person is required.”
The statute exists in the absence of a formal emancipation process for minors in the state of Minnesota, which can make declaring emancipation difficult. In this case, according to the lawsuit, J.D.K. worked with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid in 2015 to create an emancipation statement stating that “mother has made it known to him that she no longer wishes to have any contact with him,” and that she “knows where he is and has made no attempts to bring him home” and “has taken no actions to report him as a runaway or taken legal action to keep him in her home.” Calgaro disputes the characterization of her relationship with her teen.
According to Michelle Forcier, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Brown University, whose expertise is in treating transgender youth, “[The case] very much sounds political and part of the current social discourse looking to limit rights for minorities — gender, sexual, racial.” Additionally, she tells Yahoo Beauty, “This teen is almost 18 — if mom wanted to get involved in this youth’s life, there were more productive and supportive ways that she might have done so.” At face value, Forcier says, the fact that mom and teen have been living apart for some time “suggests significant difficulty in their relationship.”
Forcier adds, “That a parent disagrees with a child or adult transgender person is unfortunately not a unique situation, though it is a tragic situation, as lack of parental support and rejection is harmful, and parental acceptance and support (even if not totally understanding it) is hugely protective against self-harm and many bad health outcomes.”
Gender identity, she explains, begins as early as age 2 and sometimes younger, “with some children realizing their gender identity does not necessarily match their assigned gender — based on chromosomes, body parts — in early childhood.” For others, that realization could come later, with puberty, and, Forcier says, “research and clinical experience shows that most teens around the time of or after puberty do not ‘change their mind’ or make ‘mistakes’ about their identified gender.”
While the lawsuit mentions a “life-changing operation,” it’s not clear what exact treatments have been doled out, as experts say surgery is unlikely for someone so young. But in order to start hormone or other therapies, Forcier adds, “this patient would have talked with medical, psychological, and/or surgical specialists who would go through a thorough history, exam, and evaluation to make sure that gender hormones and/or surgery would be in the patient’s best interest. These decisions are not taken lightly by patients or providers as they make a plan for next steps.” A doctor’s letter dated January 2016, included in the lawsuit, stated that the teen had undergone gender transition treatment.
If Calgaro’s lawsuit is successful, approximately 6,580 transgender and gender-nonconforming high school students in the state of Minnesota could have trouble accessing the care they need, according to NBC News, which referenced the Minnesota Department of Education’s 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, which this year included questions about gender identity for the first time. NBC also quoted David Edwards, a leader with the support group Transforming Families, who said he was disturbed by Calgaro referring to her teen as “he,” because “purposefully mis-gendering a transgender person is an act of violence. To continually do that to your child is not only insensitive but also really harmful.”
Still, parental rights advocates see a different picture: that the legal issues raised are independent of the treatment and services this child received. David DeLugas, executive director and general counsel of the nonprofit National Association of Parents (which is not involved in this case), suggests observers “consider this case not about gender transition, but a case that raises the issue of due process and that reveals conflict in Minnesota’s statutes.” He tells Yahoo Beauty that “in every state there are duties and obligations that are rightfully placed on parents and, under Minnesota law, there is a legal process by which a court can terminate parental rights. And just as there is a legal process in Minnesota to terminate parental rights, the statute being scrutinized purports to give a minor the power simply to make certain representations about living independently of his or her parents and can then receive medical care or procedures that otherwise the medical provider would not be authorized to provide. Because this statute makes no reference to harm to the child if this process is not allowed and has no due process to protect the parents, the child and third-party medical providers, it may not pass Constitutional scrutiny.”
Still, Burleton maintains the importance of the statute regarding medical care, and praises the teen’s fortitude in this situation.
“What we’ve found is that the resilience and maturity of many of these kids is really exceptional, so it’s not surprising that she has been able to identify what her needs are,” Burleton says. “What’s amazing is that she allowed her drive to get her needs met to overcome the anxiety and depression she may be feeling, and the discouragement of whatever made her feel her house was not a safe place to be. She found the right people. And contrary to what the [mom’s] attorneys are alleging, this is an example of the system actually working.”