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Lawmakers advance bill to block child removals over gender identity

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An advocate for LGBTQ youth on Thursday said a bill to block some child removals would put transgender youth at greater risk.

A House committee approved a bill specifying that a child is not considered a child in need of services, i.e. Department of Children’s Services intervention, if the child’s parents refuse to provide gender transition treatment or refer to the child by their preferred pronouns. The committee added language to clarify DCS could still intervene if there are other circumstances at work, such as abuse or neglect.

The committee spent more than an hour discussing a case involving Anderson mother, Mary Cox, who told the panel DCS removed her then-16-year-old child after her child came out as transgender. She did not refer to the child by their preferred pronouns, citing her religious faith and understanding of science. Cox told lawmakers her child told DCS their home was transphobic and they did not feel safe.

“If this were your child and the state came in and said despite all your efforts, you cannot keep your child in your home because he’s transgender and you cannot support that because of your faith, what would you do?” she asked lawmakers.

Committee members from both parties pressed Cox’s lawyer, Joshua Hershberger, and Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matt Sharp for specifics on other cases like Cox’s. Hershberger and Sharp said other such cases exist in Indiana but would not answer where or how many.

Indiana Youth Group spokesperson Zoe O’Haillin-Berne said refusing to affirm a youth’s gender identity is a form of abuse or neglect and is usually one symptom of much larger problems at home. Nationwide, 34% of LGBTQ youth report suffering physical violence at the hands of their parents due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and 26 percent report having to leave home due to conflict. She said cutting off transgender youth from accessing DCS services would remove one of the few safety routes available.

“A lot of times, personal convictions are something that is cited and I don’t think a personal conviction is a good enough excuse to harm your child,” she said. “I think we’ll see a lot of parents that feel they don’t have to take care of their kid anymore.”

O’Haillin-Berne said if your child comes out to you as LGBTQ, they do so because they trust you and need your support. Even if you disagree with their gender identity, she said using a person’s preferred pronouns shows you still respect them.

The bill has yet to come up for a vote in the full House.