An Arizona appeals court has reversed a family court decision that severely restricted a mother’s access to her 6-year-old after she let the child wear skirts to school.
The woman and her ex-husband originally had joint custody of the child, identified as “L” in court documents. But in 2013 the father petitioned for sole legal custody, claiming his ex, “through various acts, was pushing a female gender identification on L.”
According to the Arizona Republic, L’s mom claimed her child had “long demonstrated a preference for stereotypically ’female’ items” by age 6, and would wear female clothing around the house.
Despite this, the judge forbade her from letting L wear female clothes or have “female-oriented” toys, and from referring to L. as “her,” “she” or as a “girl.” She was also barred from discussing gender-identity issues at home. And while he conceded her ex-husband’s perspective “may lead him to make less-than-ideal choices regarding L.’s care,” the judge granted him legal custody anyway.
A year later, L’s psychologist, physician and psychotherapist diagnosed the child with gender dysphoria. By 2015, 8-year-old L “made statements about dying” and “threatened or engaged in self-harm,” according to court records.
Last week, an Arizona Appeals Court overturned those injunctions, calling them a “severe micromanagement of Mother and Father’s parenting.” In its April 3 decision, the court insisted it can only restrict parenting rights if there is something that would “endanger seriously the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health.”
Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which was assisting the mother, told the Republic he was “puzzled” that the court didn’t revisit which parent had legal decision-making power in L’s life. “Our concern and the mother’s concern is entirely with the welfare of the child. We do worry that [L] is left potentially unprotected here.”
Sadly, the situation is not unique: A case in Ohio earlier this year saw a 17-year-old trans teen petitioning to live with his grandparents because his parents refused to let him transition. A lawyer for the teen told the court that being forcing him to wear dresses and answer to his birth name “caused [him] additional trauma and anxiety.”
“When you lack all hope, and when he thought this would all continue to happen to him, the suicidal ideation became more pronounced,” said attorney Thomas Mellott. “That is how he ended up where he was.”