People sometimes privately share with me their concerns about medical treatment for transgender children, and those concerns sound familiar to me.
They ask why so many more children are identifying as trans now compared to a few years ago. They wonder if a young child might just be going through a phase and worry about the long-term consequences of medical intervention.
These fears sound familiar because I used to have the exact same thoughts -- until around five years ago.
That's when a dear friend shared that her high school-aged child identified as nonbinary. I had only known this child as the gender assigned to them at birth, and I really didn't understand what "nonbinary" meant. I felt awkward trying to use different pronouns, and worried that I would slip up and offend them.
My friend explained that her child didn't feel male or female, and assured me that it was normal to take some time to adjust to a new name and pronouns. She also said that she didn't have many answers about how to proceed, but wanted to support her child however she could.
I felt her palpable concern as a mother, and I have never doubted her fierce love for her child.
Over the years, I listened and asked questions as my friend and her spouse figured out this journey for their family. They sought help from the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital, which was in national headlines recently when a whistleblower made allegations of misconduct and harm. The complainant says that puberty blockers and hormone therapies were given too freely to children and teens at the center, that there was a lack of disclosure about the medications' risks, and that patients with mental illness were inadequately evaluated.
My friend's experience with the facility was nothing like that -- in fact, quite the opposite. As the investigation into the whistleblower's allegations runs its course, it's important for political leaders to show compassion for those whose lives are at stake.
Over the past few years, I've met a handful of families with transgender children. They express feeling persecuted and attacked by lawmakers using their children as pawns in a culture war. They fear the state criminalizing them, or even taking their kids away, if they follow a doctor's guidance on caring for their child.
Consider this tweet by State Rep. Chris Lonsdale last week: "Sorry your (sic) hysterical about MO Republicans protecting kids. We aren't going to allow the mutilation of children in Missouri!"
It's awful to hear anyone insult and demonize the parents of trans kids, but an elected official implying that these parents need to be stopped from "mutilating" their kids is especially cruel and ugly. These are parents who have watched their children suffer and are desperate to help them. They are scared of losing a child to suicide, which is a higher risk for gender-nonconforming youth and adolescents.
While there are legitimate questions about how best to treat transgender kids, everyone of any political persuasion should be able agree on one thing: It's unacceptable to dehumanize trans children or their families. This should not be a controversial idea. Preserving the human dignity of the families affected should be the nonnegotiable baseline as we grapple with these issues politically.
As for Missouri Republicans "protecting kids," one could argue that they have failed to do so for years by turning a blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse at unlicensed religious reform schools, state-contracted youth residential facilities and summer camps. Victims say their pleas to investigate these institutions were long ignored. Missouri also brings kids into foster care at one of the highest rates in the country. The director of the state's child welfare agency said at a Missouri House committee meeting that the state has "effectively legally orphanized" around 1,500 children by severing parental rights before anyone was available to take them in.
Why haven't we seen the same sense of urgency to protect these children?
Rather than solving these real problems, some lawmakers have chosen to paint our friends and neighbors as monsters for seeking medical help for their kids.
It's an easier way to score political points. But it's not about protecting children.