In April 2016, my then 14-year-old daughter became convinced that she was my son. In my attempt to help her, her public school undermined me every step of the way.
Throughout my daughter’s childhood, there were no signs that she wanted to be a boy. She loved stuffed animals, Pocahontas and wearing colorful bathing suits. I can’t recall a single interest that seemed unusually masculine, or any evidence that she was uncomfortable as a girl.
The only difficulty she had was forming and maintaining friendships. We later learned why: She was on the autism spectrum. She was very functional and did well in school, helped by her Individualized Education Program (IEP), a common practice for public school students who need special education.
At her high school, my daughter was approached by a girl who had recently come out at school as transgender. Shortly after meeting her, my daughter declared that she, too, was a boy trapped in a girl’s body and picked out a new masculine name.
Our school kept parents in the dark
She first came out as transgender to her school, and when she announced that she was a boy, the faculty and staff — who had full knowledge of her mental health challenges — affirmed her. Without telling me or my wife, they referred to her by her new name. They treated my daughter as if she were a boy, using male pronouns and giving her access to a gender neutral restroom.
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When her mother and I first found out, our feelings of helplessness and astonishment made it difficult to get through each day. But I feel my daughter is a victim more than anything else.
In an IEP meeting just after she told us about being a boy, I told the school that our wishes are to call her by her legal name at all times. The social worker present at the meeting stated that we have that right to make that request, so I assumed school staff would follow our directive. I followed up that meeting with an email, but later learned that my request was ignored and school staff continued to refer to her by the male name.
We met with the school district’s assistant superintendent, who told us the hands of school personnel are tied and that they had to follow the law. But there was no law, only the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleagues” letter of May 2016 that said schools need to officially affirm transgender students. Just three months later, in August 2016, a federal judge in Texas blocked the guidelines from being enforced. And in February 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era guidelines, leaving it to the states to set their own policies.
I also learned that the ACLU has sent threatening letters to schools stating that it is against the law to disclose a student’s gender identity, even to their parents. But this letter appears to misunderstand federal law. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires that schools allow parents to “inspect and review” their child’s education records as long as the child is under 18.
My daughter told me that the school social worker was advising her about halfway houses because he thought we did not support her. The social worker confirmed this when I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss it. This felt like a horrifying attempt to encourage our daughter to run away from home.
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We had our daughter evaluated by a psychologist approved by the school district. He told us that it was very clear that our daughter’s sudden transgender identity was driven by her underlying mental health conditions, but would only share his thoughts off the record because he feared the potential backlash he would receive. In the report he submitted to us and the school, he did not include these concerns that he would only share in person.
A national policy epidemic
In my attempts over the past several years to get help for my daughter, what I have learned has shocked me.
The National Education Association has partnered with the Human Rights Campaign and other groups to produce materials advocating automatic affirmation of identities, name changes and pronouns, regardless of parents’ concerns. In 18 states and the District of Columbia, including in my home state of Illinois, there are “conversion therapy” bans, which prevent therapists from questioning a child’s gender identity. No wonder my daughter’s therapist would only speak to me off the record.
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Some agencies, like the New Jersey Department of Education, warn school districts to “be mindful of disputes” between children and their parents over gender identity. The department's “Transgender Student Guidance” document refers educators to the state’s "Child Abuse, Neglect, and Missing Children" webpage, suggesting that school staff might be encouraged to report parents if they disagree with their child transitioning.
When parents are willing to go along with their child’s transitioning, the process can move at a frightening pace. Doctors with the Endocrine Society rewrote the guidelines for treating young patients who say they are transgender in order to give hormone treatments to children younger than 16 years old. Even more concerning, surgeries such as mastectomies and orchiectomies (the removal of testicles) are performed on teenagers.
Parents are afraid to speak out
Through all this, I’ve learned that I’m not alone. Many parents just like my wife and me are often afraid to speak out because we are told we are transphobic bigots, simply because we do not believe our children were born into the wrong bodies.
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When our daughter returned to high school to finish her senior year, I contacted the principal to let him know I expected her legal name to be used at graduation. Once again, the school refused to honor my request.
Now, thanks in large part to my daughter’s school, my daughter is more convinced than ever that she is a boy, and that testosterone may be necessary for her to become her authentic self.
She turned 18 in late June and life-altering, dangerous testosterone injections are just one “informed consent form” away. She can turn to any one of Illinois’s 17 Planned Parenthood clinics for cheap and easy access. No extensive mental health assessment will be required, and there will be nothing I can do to stop her.
Jay Keck lives in a suburb outside of Chicago, and his child, with whom he discussed this column, attended school in Hinsdale District #86. He is a member of the Kelsey Coalition, which promotes policies to protect young people from what the organization considers the medical and psychological harms of transgender medicine. He is also the Chicago leader of ParentsofROGDKids, a support group for parents who have children suddenly identifying as transgender.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Transgender youth: My daughter needs mental health care — not hormones