The parents of transgender children met on Capitol Hill Wednesday to share stories about hardships their families have encountered, including anti-trans policies of the Trump administration.
The parents gathered for a one-hour meeting at the Cannon House Office Building for a public meeting hosted by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), chair of the Transgender Equality Task Force. The meeting followed a two-day summit of the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council at the Human Rights Campaign building in D.C.
Rachel Gonzales, who lives in the Dallas area and is the mother of three children, told the story of how her transgender daughter “became progressively anxious and depressed and angry” before she transitioned.
“My husband and I were really at odds with how to handle her increasing need to feminize her presence,” Gonzales said. “And, as she became more aware of other people’s perception of her as a boy, she just hit a wall where she expressed to us that she could not go on any longer with anyone thinking she was a boy, that she needed Santa Claus to turn her into a girl.
That changed, Gonzales said, when she allowed her daughter to transition socially by starting to wear girls’ clothing and growing her hair long.
“She became happier and we changed her name and her pronouns, and she started to come back out of that dark cloud,” Gonzales said. “And we really were anxious about living in Texas, what that would be like, telling her classmates in school that her name and pronouns had changed and much to our surprise, her classmates’ responses were almost comical: Of course, she’s wearing a dress? Why wouldn’t she wear a dress?”
Both Gonzalez and her transgender daughter testified before the Texas Legislature two years ago when lawmakers sought to pass an anti-transgender bathroom bill. The legislation ended up being defeated.
Louis Porter II, formerly executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, talked about his experience raising his non-binary gender expansive child named Zeam, saying he was thankful for the support he found from fellow black elders in his Southern Christian tradition.
“I haven’t met a parent yet who doesn’t worry, but when your child is transgender and black, you worry even more so,” Porter said.
Priya Shah, a gender and sexuality studies teacher in Orange County, Calif., recalled crying last year when Kennedy during his response to President Trump’s State of the Union address, mentioned parents raising transgender children.
“Our daughter who was identified male at birth came to me before her seventh birthday, looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Mom. I’m a girl. This is the situation,’” Shah said. “In a way I think we had known about that for a long time and that it was coming.”
On the first therapy sessions the family had, Shah said her daughter told her, “I’ve known since I was four, but I thought you would hate me, and I thought people wouldn’t love me.”
“She didn’t even know the word transgender, she didn’t know that it was something that you could be, and she was so scared to even tell her family,” Shah said.
At her daughter’s private school in California, Shah said her daughter wasn’t allowed to transition and was forced to wear a male uniform and go by her old name and male pronouns.
“She would come home every after school and rip the uniform,” Shah said. “One day I found a picture of her that was taken at school and she ripped it in half and said I hate myself.”
At that time, Shah said she started teaching her daughter through home schooling and sued the school, which ultimately changed its policies and started training its principals. Shah said her daughter now is a straight A student and in programs for gifted students.
“It’s a constant battle,” Shah said. “We still have parents in Orange County who want to be able to discriminate against transgender children, there’s teachers that ask if they cannot teach our children.”
Keisha Michaels, who’s black and a social worker, became emotional when she recalled the mortality rate for transgender women of color.
“We worry, we know the number, we know the statistics,” Michaels said. “We realize that transgender women of color, black transgender women, are murdered — I’ll just have to say it — at ridiculous rates in this country. And we worry, my husband and I, we worry every day about it.”
A common theme among the parents at the meeting was the need to pass the Equality Act, which would amend federal civil rights law to explicitly include LGBT people and ban anti-trans discrimination in schools.
JR Ford, a D.C.-based cybersecurity expert who lives in D.C., talked about the importance of the legislation to ensure protections for transgender kids.
“The Equality Act would help to provide protections across an entire nation for transgender youth, so they can know that they exist,” Ford said. “We can leverage state-by-state regulations and policies…It’s more beneficial for all children in this country to be protected, and so the Equality Act really is essential for essential human rights.”
Sarah McBride, a transgender advocate and spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said during the meeting the Equality Act would be introduced in the “coming weeks.” Rep, David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has sponsored the legislation in the U.S. House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has sponsored the legislation in the Senate.
Another theme was the anti-transgender polices of the Trump administration. When Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity was rescinded in 2017, Ford said he approached the White House from the street and shouted at the leaders inside.
Jessica Girven, the mother of a transgender daughter in the U.S. military stationed in Germany, became angry when she recalled the Trump administration rescinding the policy ensuring non-discrimination for transgender kids in school.
“The assistant secretary of defense under Obama issued an inclusive affirming policy at all Department of Defense schools and MWR facilities around the world,” Girven said. “So, for the first time, families didn’t have to worry what happens when we move?…Will my child not be able to go to school? Will we be able to rent a house? We had this beautiful policy for four months. It was one of the first things that was rescinded under this administration.”
One participant in the meeting who shared an unexpected story was Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who talked about her soon-to-be 21-year-old transgender grandson Isaac and his process of transitioning.
“I asked him, I said, ‘Growing up was this an issue for you because our family’s very close, he always seemed very happy. He said, ‘I just never knew it was an option, and, you know, I felt loved and accepted in the family.’”
Schakowsky said her grandson is preparing to have gender reassignment surgery for a double mastectomy and has had eggs frozen to ensure he can be a biological parent in the future.
Other lawmakers in attendance were Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) as well as Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.).