Why Transgender Children Need Support from Parents

Over 40% of transgender people under the age of 25 attempt suicide compared to the less than 1% national average. And those statistics are the same across most of the world where records are kept and are often quoted in articles and presentations.  What is not so often mentioned is that the single biggest factor in determining whether a transgender child is likely to attempt suicide is parental support.

I wrote last week about the tragic suicide by Leelah Alcorn, whose suicide note pointed the blame clearly at her parents refusal to accept that she was trans and persistently did everything to stop her from being herself. There is clear evidence to show that transgender children who do not receive support from parents are much more likely attempt suicide, self harm, take drugs, engage in unsafe sexual activity and become HIV positive.

I find it very difficult to understand why a parent would put their bigoted feelings ahead of their child's safety but they do. While I was at university 10 years ago I came across countless cases of students who, now living on their own and having met other LGBT people at uni, had come out only to have all financial and social support from parents withdrawn and were unable to return home. 

Leelah's story has had a significant impact, but I really wish that the message could have come from a more positive story. 

Actress Leverne Cox has been a huge success last year following the success of Orange is the New Black.  She is not the first trans actress, but she is certainly the most successful and managed become the first openly trans woman to make the front cover of Time Magazine, get nominated for an Emmy award for acting and become Glamour Magazines Woman of the Year among a host of awards and nominations in 2014. At the GLADD awards her mother came onstage to present her with bouquet prompting  some positive words about support.

Of course having supportive parents does not guarantee that a trans child will not attempt suicide.  Laverne grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Alabama where not behaving as a boy is expected to behave is a guarantee of relentless bullying. At the age of 11 Laverne attempted to take her own life. 

But one of the most moving stories I have heard about positive support is a short speech by Debi Jackson made earlier in 2014 about her experiences bringing up a trans daughter.  Debi had blogged on BlogHer about this issue of trans children receiving support from parents and then delivered that blog post as speech in which she addresses some of the very negative comments that have been made about her in a humorous and moving way. It's a speech that I think every parent and schoolteacher should hear - especially those who consider using their religious beliefs to support their bigoted views.  Debi describes herself as a conservative Southern Baptist Republican from Alabama - yet her support for her young trans daughter is remarkable and her message inspiring. 

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One Comment

  1. August 1999. After 15 years in music ministry with the choir and as the caontr for the 8:00 AM Sunday Mass each week, I was told by Rev. David Clifford, the associate pastor of Holy Name of Jesus parish in Valhalla, New York, that my transition was “causing a scandal in the Church” and I was told not to come back. Some time in 2000, leaked to Catholic News Service (CNS) in early 2003. The RCC Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues a “sub secretum” document to papal nuncios all over the world to provide guidance to bishops should any questions arise about how to treat trans people. In 2003, after it turned out that no bishops ever asked any questions, the Vatican sent a copy, still sub secretum, to all the bishops in the world. One from Australia leaked the document to CNS which resulted in an article that summarized the official teachings: 1. Trans people always “belong” to their birth-assigned sex based on birth genitalia. 2. Surgery is permitted in the most extreme cases to alleviate dysphoria, but does not “change” sex, and church baptismal records must not be altered. 3. Trans people have a mental disorder and are incapable of consenting to marriage to anyone at all. trans people are expected to live celibate lives. 4. Trans people have a mental disorder that prevents them from being ordained to the priesthood or admission to any religious order of monks, nuns, brothers or sisters. (However if a man who was orained later “becomes” transsexual, he still remains a priest and may quietly continue to say mass, etc. unless continuing to do so would “cause a scandal in the Church.” 5. trans people are permitted to be Catholic. Essentially, what happened to me in 1999 went too far, if the document had been in force at the time. Rather than throwing me out, all Father Dave should have done was remove me from music ministry and tell me I could no longer serve as a caontr. The RCC based its document on erroneous advice given it by the notorous Opus Dei member Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders and who has been chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. It was also prepared at least ib part by Urbano (now Cardinal!) Navarette, S.J., most recently noted for the bizarre RCC condemnation and invalidation of baptisms that do not use male-gender-specific terms for the members of the Trinity. It’s okay to be trans and Catholic. But the Church claims to be the source of all the Truth, and a trans person knows that the Church is absolutely wrong in its teachings on trans people, and anyone with a modicum of right reason, a proper moral compass and an informed connscience must know that the Church is also absolutely wrong in its treatment of gay and lesbian people and women. This knowledge that the Church which maintains that it possesses all the Truth has been false in much of its moral theology, also leads the relatively intelligent person with right reason, etc. to questio the Church’s authority on matters of faith as well. Ultimately, faith in the beliefs promulgated by an institution whose hierarchy has turned to the basest evil in so many ways becomes a challenge for even the most tolerant of “cafeteria Catholics.” It is one thing to have a local vibrant, loving, Christian and meaningful parish community with a wonderful pastor who cares for the flock, and quite another when the bishops, the Congregation Propaganda Fideii and the Pope get involved. One can only ignore so much before being called to speak up and shake their dust from one;s sandals. Can a trans person be a Catholci? Yes. But that brings up another question – SHOULD a trans person be a Catholic? That answer may be very different.

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