A 17-year-old transgender boy is fighting his parents for his right to stay on hormones in a what an Ohio judge has called a "gut-wrenching situation," reports CNN's wire service. The parents are seeking court authorization to stop the teen from getting recommended medical treatment and therapy, although several medical experts say doing so could cost the teen his life.
In court, experts testified that the parents' rejection of the teen's transgender identity, including the father refusing to call his son by his chosen name, has caused the teen to feel suicidal, and he was hospitalized in 2016. That November, he had contacted a crisis chat service saying he felt unsafe in his home because his father had told him to kill himself since he was "going to hell anyway," according to the transcript of the case's closing arguments.
The teen, who is temporarily in the legal custody of Hamilton County Job and Family Services, has been diagnosed with depression, an anxiety disorder, and gender dysphoria. Because of his suicide risk, he was placed with his maternal grandparents, who support his transgender identity and are seeking full custody.
The teen has said he would like to stay with his grandparents, and Paul Hunt, his court-appointed guardian, believes that they should have custody. "We think the grandparents are the ones who have an open mind and will ... make this sort of decision best for the child," Hunt said in court. "The parents have clearly indicated that they're not open to it."
The medical team treating the boy at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center testified that the grandparents' home has been a supportive environment and that therapy has improved the teen's mental and emotional health. The doctors said, though, that he is still at risk for suicide, a risk that can be ameliorated by letting him physically transition.
But the parents' attorney, Karen Brinkman, said in her written closing argument that "it does not appear that this child is even close to being able to make such a life-altering decision at this time." Donald Clancy of the Hamiliton County Prosecutor's Office argued, though, that the parents are against hormone therapy because it conflicts with their religious values. "Father testified that any kind of transition at all would go against his core beliefs and allowing the child to transition would be akin to him taking his heart out of his chest and placing it on the table," he said in his closing argument.
The grandparents announced in court they are prepared to make medical decisions alongside the child if given custody and will consider letting him start hormone therapy.
This case has caught the eye of Michelle Forcier, a pediatrician who works with transgender children and teaches pediatrics at Brown University. "If your child had asthma and was turning blue, you wouldn't deny them their albuterol inhaler or say 'let's wait,'" Forcier told CNN. "If this were cancer or diabetes, we wouldn't be having this conversation, but people get funny when it comes to medical care when gender is involved, and that's harmful."
Brinkman wrote in her closing argument that if the parents are granted legal custody, they would want the teen to continue to live with the grandparents, "not in an effort to avoid parenting their child, but because they believe that the current living arrangement is in [the teen's] best interest" -- but this promise is in no way legally binding.
Clancy noted that the father testified that having the teen come home would "warp" how his siblings perceived reality. The parents had previously enrolled the teen at a Catholic school where he was forced to wear dresses every day and only called his dead name, said Thomas Mellott, the teen's lawyer. "When you lack all hope, and when he thought this would all continue to happen to him, the suicidal ideation became more pronounced, and that is how he ended up where he was."
The recurring use of his birth name in court documents has also caused the teen pain. "It has gotten to the point where my client mentioned that he doesn't want to think about college at this point because the marketing materials he's getting keep using the birth name," said Mellott, "He gets really good grades. He is academically inclined and participates in the band and was really engaged in school, and then all the sudden, this happened."
The grandparents' attorney, Jeffrey Cutcher, holds a similar view. "What we want to do in the coming months around May is plan for a high school graduation, throughout the summer and fall, plan for entrance into college. We don't want to be planning for a funeral," he said in his closing arguments.