Peter and Sarah Tchoryk want you to know that their child — who they thought was their daughter, but who insisted he is their son — was anxious and despairing until he started living as a boy, with a haircut and a new name.
Louis and Ea Porter want you to know how shocked they were when their teenager came out as transgender, how deeply frightened they were for their child’s safety after they went on national television to advocate for other young transgender people.
And Joanne Lee wants you to know what it feels like to have lost her transgender son to suicide, how it feels to live with her deep regret over not telling him that she loved him as he was and that she would protect him no matter what.
“I had an endless amount of love, but I didn’t speak up or stand up for him,” Lee said. “I didn’t understand his immeasurable pain.”
They are a few of more than a dozen parents who have joined with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights organization, to advocate for transgender people at a time when transgender rights are at the center of the nation’s culture wars.
During the past year, more than a dozen states considered bills that would restrict transgender students’ access to bathrooms at school, directly contradicting an Obama administration directive to schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. That directive — and the nation’s school policies regarding transgender access to bathrooms and locker rooms — are the subject of a case that is now with the Supreme Court.
The new Parents for Transgender Equality Council is an effort to harness the power of personal stories to change people’s minds, and to replace hazy generalities about transgender people with individual children who are fiercely loved by their families.
“I just want to be able to say to our children when they leave home, ‘Have a good day,’ and ‘I’ll see you when you get back,’ ” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the grandfather of a transgender girl, who spoke at a gathering in D.C. on Monday to announce the council.
The parents’ group has been in the works for some time as a way to counter a wave of what the Human Rights Campaign describes as anti-transgender legislation. Advocates point to South Dakota, where Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed a bathroom bill just days after he met with transgender youth, citing it as an example of how personal stories can make a difference.
Parents said the results of last week’s presidential election have increased their intensity and resolve in the fight to protect their children.
The Republican Party, which will now control the presidency and both chambers of Congress, rejects President Obama’s push for transgender students’ bathroom access as “illegal” and “dangerous” in its official platform.
Opponents of the administration’s guidance say it creates a safety risk and violates the privacy of children who shouldn’t have to share bathrooms and locker rooms with people of the opposite biological sex, regardless of their gender identity.
But the members of the new parent council say that refusing to acknowledge a child’s gender identity endangers that child’s life. Rates of suicide and depression among transgender people are notoriously high, but a recent University of Washington study showed that transgender youth who are supported by family members have far lower rates of anxiety and depression than had been recorded in other studies.
“I would like to remind the people who were elected, we also are your constituents,” said Debi Jackson, the mother of a transgender girl named Avery. “Please help us guarantee that our child has the same rights as everyone else.”
Tchoryk and several other parents described feeling devastated by an election that ushered into power many leaders, at the state and national levels, who have resolved to challenge the Obama administration’s effort to protect transgender children under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
“That was my first thought,” said Vanessa Ford, the mother of a transgender girl, who called Obama’s guidance “a massive thing” that would be easy for President-elect Donald Trump to unilaterally undo. But Ford, a member of the council along with her husband, JR Ford, said she doesn’t want transgender children and their families to believe that they are doomed.
“There is a lot of hope, and there are a lot of people fighting,” she said.
Jackson said her daughter was so miserable before she transitioned that she tried to kill herself at age 4, unbuckling her seat belt and reaching for the car door latch as the family hurtled down a highway.
“We do not have a right as a person or a society to impose our own views of gender on someone else,” she said.
The members of the parent council hail from across the country. They are of different faiths and races. But they all say that anyone who believes that being transgender is a choice or a delusion must meet their children, who are insistent and persistent about their gender identity.
“I’m convinced if people could get to know a transgender kid and their family,” Peter Tchoryk said, “the fear and insecurities . . . would go away.” He said his son’s anxiety and tantrums eased after he and his wife acknowledged that he wasn’t just a tomboy, but a boy.
“I understand if you don’t have a transgender kid this may be very tough for you to wrap your head around,” Tchoryk said.