On February 16, 2018, Ohio Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon handed down a decision in Hamilton County Juvenile Court that removed a gender dysphoric child from the custody of her biological parents and awarded custody to the child’s grandparents. The decision was made on the grounds that the grandparents are affirming of the seventeen-year-old’s desire to undergo “transition” through hormone therapy, while the parents question the child’s judgment and object to the transition on religious grounds.
While it is true that the parents had already agreed to allow the child to live with the grandparents prior to the ruling, the issue at stake is not where the child resides. It is this: Who possesses authority to make prudent medical decisions in the best interest of the child? According to Judge Hendon’s ruling, the answer is the state of Ohio.
A Problematic Ruling
In her decision, the judge herself noted that “It is not within this Court’s jurisdiction to intrude on the treatment of a child except in the very rare circumstance when the child’s life hangs in the balance of treatment versus non-treatment.” The judge then dismisses allegations that the child’s life hangs in the balance, based on medical record testimony. So, if the judge acknowledges that imminent suicide is not likely, why did she nullify the parents’ rights? On what grounds did the judge take such drastically invasive and precedent-setting action?
The judge’s decision seems all the more imprudently decided in light of the fact that the child lived consistently in accordance with her birth sex as late as summer 2016, despite a prolonged pattern of mental health setbacks. The judge even acknowledges that recommended treatment protocols for gender-dysphoric individuals are “evolving rapidly and there is a surprising lack of definitive clinical study available to determine the success of different treatment modalities.” So how can the child’s best interests be determined by the courts when, in the judge’s own words, a “lack of definitive clinical study” is available? Allowing a child access to hormone treatment by taking the drastic step of revoking parental custody requires a better answer than the speculation provided by Judge Hendon.
The judge’s ruling, which goes so far as to nullify parental rights, relies on problematic transgender ideology. Consider this excerpt:
It is unfortunate that this case required resolution by the Court as the family would have been best served if this could have been settled within the family after all parties had ample exposure to the reality of the fact that the child truly may be gender non-conforming and has a legitimate right to pursue life with a different gender identity than the one assigned at birth.
Acknowledging the psychological reality of gender dysphoria does not grant the ontological status of someone’s being, truly, a member of the opposite sex.
The judge then recommends that Ohio’s legislature adopt a legal framework in the event that similar cases arise in the future, which the judge recognizes is inevitable given the “increasing worldwide interest in transgender care.” Despite the severing of custody rights, the court’s ruling thankfully upholds visitation rights and encourages the family to work toward a “reintegration of the child into the extended family.”
A Brazen Assault on Parental Rights
This ruling represents a brazen assault on the rights of parents who love, care, and want what is best for their child, but disagree with the transgender ideology that says the best way to a healthy future is to identify as a member of the opposite sex.
This enormously significant and gut-wrenching court case raises concerns about the future of parental rights in the aftermath of the transgender revolution. If the medical establishment deems “transitioning” in the best interest of a legal minor and the parents object on moral or religious grounds, legal precedent now exists that suggests that parental rights can be severed in the interest of countenancing transgender orthodoxy.
This particular case involves a child who is almost a legal adult. But, given that children with gender dysphoria can be administered cross-sex hormones when they are as young as twelve, it is only a matter of time before cases arise in which younger children wish to use puberty suppressants or hormone therapy against the wishes of their parents. In a contest between politicized medicine and parental rights, who wins?
The court ostensibly weighed the interest of the child’s medical well-being against the wishes of parents, who disagree with the underlying ideology and treatment protocols associated with transgenderism. CNN’s coverage of the case cites parents’ religious objections to their child’s transition but also notes that parents have done their own “due diligence” and research, and that they have expressed concern about their child’s judgment. Clearly, the judge dismissed dissenting opinions on treatment for gender dysphoria as insufficiently persuasive.
Is it not at all possible that the parents know their child’s decision-making history and judgment better than a court-appointed guardian? When it comes to the question of experimental medicine like gender transition, the answer is apparently "no."
As one would expect, the media framed the story entirely in defense of the child’s right to transition, giving no serious consideration to the question of whether it is reasonable, wise, or even safe to leave an enormous and irreversible decision such as gender transition in the hands of an adolescent and legal minor.
This case ought to send a chill down the spine of every citizen, religious or not, who has questions or concerns about the rapid acceptance of transgender dogma throughout America. Why? Because it signals the accelerating pace at which transgender dogma has taken root in society and the consequences for any parent who dares question the transgender establishment. It reveals how vulnerable parental rights are. Even more, it signals the willingness of the state to step in and revoke parental custody in the name of the best interest of the child—even if judgment about what is in the “best interest” of the child is based on shifting standards of care for gender identity disorders whose cause science has yet to explain.
One article about this story alleges in zero-sum fashion that unless the child is allowed to transition, her chances of committing suicide increase. If a child is on the verge of suicide, is it not reasonable to ask whether there are deeper issues at play? Concerns over suicidality in the transgender community suggest that comorbidities that accompany gender dysphoria are more at fault than not receiving sufficient social affirmation, hormonal therapy, and sex-reassignment surgery.
This case’s implications are larger than they may initially appear. Could the day be coming, for example, when would-be adoptive parents would be denied the opportunity to love and care for an orphaned child because the parents are orthodox Jews, Christians, or Muslims and disagree with LGBT orthodoxy? This has already happened in the United Kingdom. What recourse remains for a gender dysphoric child who does not want to pursue transition? What dissenting advice can his or her parent offer without fear of state intervention?
In normal times, the Ohio case would be easy to decide. Of course parents ought to retain parental rights over their child whom they love and for whom they want the best. Of course there are alternative pathways to seek out when dealing with a gender identity conflict. But where the sexual revolution can work to inflict its ever-evolving ideology—even at the expense of parental rights—it will do so. And it will do so unapologetically and in a spirit of self-congratulatory social justice.
This case should never have risen to the level it did. That it even reached a judge is a clear example of Big Brother confusing its role with that of Mom and Dad. It sets a precedent that puts not only the natural family but the well-being of children at risk.
Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Policy Studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is a doctoral candidate in Christian Ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.