How a law ordering therapists to 'out' transgender kids to parents could cause serious harm

·Senior Editor
Young LGBTQ activists earlier this month. (Photo: Cris Faga/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Young LGBTQ activists earlier this month. (Photo: Cris Faga/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

A controversial bill aimed at limiting the independence of transgender youth in Ohio has therapists, transpeople, and other activists fuming on social media, where they say the potential new law would put vulnerable children and teens at risk.

Ohio House Bill (HB) 658 would require that school psychologists, social workers, and other employees tell parents if a minor discloses any struggles with gender identity or asks for gender dysphoria treatment — and that if these confidantes failed to inform both parents, in writing, they would face felony charges.

“No government agent or entity shall purposely or knowingly authorize or provide gender dysphoria treatment for a child without the written, informed consent of each of the child’s parents and the child’s guardian or custodian,” HB 658 reads, in part, “as required in section 2131.144 of the Revised Code. A violation of this section is gender dysphoria [a persistent sense of mismatch between one’s experienced gender and assigned gender] treatment without parental consent, a felony of the fourth degree.”

Critics, some of them therapists, were swift to call out the bill for the potential havoc it could wreak in adolescents’ lives, particularly in cases in which parents are unsupportive or even hostile towards their gender-questioning kids. They also say it amounts to the state-mandated breaking of patient confidentiality, and expressed outrage on Twitter.

The bill, sponsored by Republican House Reps. Tom Brinkman and Paul Zeltwanger, seeks to give parents rights to “withhold consent for gender dysphoria treatment or activities that are designed and intended to form a child’s conception of sex and gender.” Brinkman told WOSU that he was inspired by a Cincinnati case that awarded custody of a 17-year-old transgender individual to the supportive grandparents. Supporters have been referring to the bill as the Parents’ Rights Act.

But, says Jenn Burleton, executive director of the national transgender youth TransActive Gender Center, based in Oregon, the real aim of this bill is to remove the rights of trans youth — and she points to the 2014 suicide of Ohio teen Leelah Alcorn, who expressed her anguish in a widely publicized suicide note on Tumblr as what appears to be the goal of the legislators.

“If I were in the state of Ohio, the conclusion I would draw is that these legislators looked at the Leelah Alcorn case, saw she had reached out for help after her parents were unsupportive… that they looked at the entirety of what happened and decided, ‘That’s what we want to happen to all trans kids in Ohio.'”

Many transgender kids living with unsupportive parents may be able to hold on, emotionally, because of support through school counselors or Gay-Straight Alliances, says Burleton. “But in one fell swoop, this bill would eliminate any support system at their schools… their goal is Draconian.”

Regarding the case of parents wanting input on such big decision, she says, such measures are already in place, as most states have specific laws regarding the age of consent for medical treatment. In Ohio, that age is 18, with just a few exceptions, such as minors who have been legally emancipated, or someone over 15 who has been deemed a “mature minor” on a case-by-case basis. Further, Burleton adds, “even in the most generous reading of the bill,” there is nothing in it that places limits on what parents can do when they are unsupportive of their transgender child — not even when it comes physical abuse.

Equality Ohio, an LGBTQ-rights organization, has been working hard to lobby against the bill. As it notes on its website, “Every major medical and psychological association including the AMA, APA and others agree that transition-related care is medically necessary. This is a discussion between families and their doctors, and is there is not a one-size fits all solution. This provision is dangerous for Ohio families. It allows for non-custodial parents (for example, a legally separated parent convicted of domestic violence) to have a say in family decision making. This bill is anti-trans youth… This unnecessary and discriminatory bill does nothing to support youth and families. In fact, it puts the livelihoods of some of our most vulnerable youth — transgender youth — further at risk with bullying and discrimination by potentially forcing teachers to out them.”

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