California has frequently been a battleground for socially divisive issues, spanning from immigration to taxation. Once again, it finds itself at the center of a significant debate, this time centered around parental rights and gender identity.
Assembly Bill 957, brought forward by Assembly Member Lori Wilson and coauthored by Senator Scott Wiener, instructs courts to take into consideration whether or not a parent agrees with a child’s subjective view of their gender identity when awarding custody.
At its essence, the bill tells judges that when making decisions about what is in the ‘best interests’ of a child in custody disputes, the court will take into account whether parents have shown support for and ‘affirmation’ of their child’s gender identity and expression.
It was passed in the California Senate on September 6th and passed in the Assembly on September 8th.
The radical bill has drawn fire from critics who accused the California government of encroaching on parental rights. Should it be enacted, parents risk losing custody of their children if they do not entirely support their child’s subjective gender identity.
Another cause for concern is the lack of clarity within the bill. Given the absence of a precise definition for ‘affirmation,’ it raises the question of whether courts might be left to render arbitrary decisions influenced by individual judges’ biases or personal beliefs.
California Democrat Lori Wilson defended the bill on Friday.
This is California State Rep. Lori Wilson, who wrote AB 957: "Parents affirm their children. Typically it happens when their gender identity matches their biological gender. But when it doesn't, the affirmation starts to wane… Our duty as parents is to affirm our children." pic.twitter.com/KP2Z9sksmp
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) September 8, 2023
“Parents affirm their children,” said Wilson. “Typically it happens when their gender identity matches their biological gender. But when it doesn’t, the affirmation starts to wane. Our duty is to affirm our children.”
A Republican lawmaker who objected to the bill was actually cut off while he laid out studies that disagree with arguments being made by the California Democrats.
State assemblymember James Gallagher was discussing a study on detransitioning young persons when his microphone was suddenly cut off.
“I want to get this out there,” Gallagher said. “This is important that we know what the science and the information is saying. Even a recent follow-up study in 2021 found that of about 139 participants, only 17 persisted in their gender identity. This was looking at young boys, a hundred twenty-two, 87% went back to their biological sex. You can’t have a…”
Gallagher was told his microphone was cut off due to a “time limit on speeches.”
“He was making the point that social transition might not always be the best solution for kids struggling with gender identity and that most identify with their biological sex as they became adults,” Reopen California Schools Founder Jonathan Zachreson said about the incident.
The Frontiers in Psychiatry longitudinal study published in March 2021 stated that “of the 139 participants, 17 (12.2%) were classified as persisters and the remaining 122 (87.8%) were classified as desisters.”
Such studies have profound implications for the child, as there have been credible reports about irreversible damage from hormone “therapies” and sexual reassignment surgeries.
Clinical psychiatrist Erica Anderson, who is transgender, stated in a recent interview that healthcare providers must examine all contributing factors to a child’s condition, “not to dissuade them of their assertive gender, but to understand how other things might be related,” such as mental health challenges like anxiety or a history of abuse.
“I’ve never seen a major mental illness cured by a gender transition,” Anderson states. Contrary to the belief held by some peers that “the distress that kids experience is all due to gender issues,” Anderson finds such cases to be “rare.”
“Large social surveys in recent years have confirmed what I’ve been saying, which is a huge number of kids questioning their gender beyond anything we ever expected, as many as one in five kids who are adolescents in the United States are expressing a gender sexuality different than straight and cisgender. That’s a huge shift,” the psychologist said. “We used to think of transgender kids as a very small proportion, maybe half a percent, 1% or less.”
Most trans activists, Anderson explained, have celebrated this shift, but doesn’t think that is the only factor.
“It is obviously common for kids to talk among themselves, so we have to wonder, well, what’s going on with these kids?” Anderson asked. “Are they all going to be transgender? The research in the past told us that some proportion of kids who are gender questioning when they’re younger persist and become what we call transgender, but not all.”
Then the clinical psychologist explored the “emotional blackmail” that is coaxing parents to allow their children to gender-transition.
“I call that emotional blackmail,” Anderson said. “Parents love their children, they don’t want any harm to come to their children, so if a responsible professional, a doctor tells them that … ” Anderson added this claim is a “misreading of the literature.”
“The most often quoted 40% or 41% suicidal ideation rate is based on a retrospective study, self-report of adult trans people from five, six years ago and other reports … comport to rates of suicidal ideation and other young people who have mental health challenges,” the psychologist said. “It’s out of context, it’s a scary statistic and inappropriately used, I think.”
“That statistic has been used to bludgeon lots of parents and manipulate them, in my opinion, into consenting to treatment that they had reservations about,” Anderson added. “I think that’s wrong.”
European countries have already started taking a “more cautious approach,” recognizing that the population of those seeking gender-related care has evolved. Anderson points out that certain events, like the pandemic, may have complicated the issue, with teenagers resorting to online sources that might offer misleading advice.
Anderson also warns that the medical community is too quick to affirm a child’s chosen gender, often neglecting to carry out the needed individual assessments.
“I’ve been worried that too often kids are rushed towards medicalization,” the psychologist says, noting that such hasty decisions could amount to malpractice.
Legal analysts also claim that the bill could open up parents up to being charged for child abuse if they do not “affirm” a child’s subjective reinterpretation of their gender identity.
“When you say that gender affirmation is in the child’s best interest for health, safety, and welfare, it takes nothing to say [non-affirmation] is now abuse—because you’re not taking care of the health, safety, and welfare if you’re not affirming them,” said Erin Friday, a San Francisco attorney.