GOP advances ‘parental rights’ bill targeting DCS policies for transgender children

By: - February 10, 2023 7:00 am

Rep. Dale Devon, R-Granger, offered a bill protecting parents who don’t affirm the identity of their transgender children. (Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

A House committee voted to advance a bill Thursday enshrining parental rights and protecting parents who don’t support their transgender children from allegations of abuse. 

It is the latest example of transgender legislation sweeping the nation in Republican-led states.

Bill author Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger, said the bill wouldn’t permit actual abuse, but would bar the Indiana Department of Child Services from removing a child from a home because their parents disagreed with the “child’s want to be a transgender.”

The agency, in an email to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, said it had no such policy and worked with the state’s judicial branch to make decisions in the best interest of the child based on state statutes.

“We consider the needs and values of all we serve in our efforts to protect children while keeping families together whenever possible,” the agency said in a statement. “To be clear, DCS does not – and will not – pursue a case solely on a parent’s choice not to 1) affirm their child’s gender identity, 2) obtain gender-affirming medical care or 3) enroll their child in gender-affirming therapy.”

An October ruling from the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed DCS’ actions in a case involving a parent and their minor transgender child. In that case, the court upheld DCS’ removal of a child whose parents didn’t accept their child’s transgender identity, were verbally abusing the child and refusing to treat the child’s eating disorder.

“We also conclude that Child’s continued removal from the home does not violate the Parents’ constitutional rights to the care, custody, and control of Child or to their rights to the free exercise of religion. The Parents have the right to exercise their religious beliefs, but they do not have the right to exercise them in a manner that causes physical or emotional harm to Child,” the decision said.

A case study from Anderson

Much of the testimony centered around an Anderson teenager who identifies as a transgender girl. Mary Cox claimed that DCS removed her child from her home, placing her with an affirming foster home, because she and her husband didn’t accept their daughter’s gender identity. 

Cox said her rights had been “trampled by gender ideology in our schools” and her now-adult child was estranged from their family. 

“We would not call our (child) by (their) chosen name or pronouns because of our faith and our belief that God created man and woman perfectly in his own image,” Cox said, misgendering her child. “Children… are battling this on a daily basis in schools. It is peer driven; it is socially driven. It is driven from medical associations.”

Matt Sharp, an attorney with the anti-LGBTQ organization Alliance Defending Freedom, voices support for a ‘parental rights’ bill protecting parents who don’t accept their transgender children. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Later testimony from Cox’s attorney, who represented her in court proceedings against DCS, revealed that the 16-year-old child had said she didn’t want to return home to her parents – a factor that may be considered by courts in certain types of cases. 

Other speakers

The bill doesn’t explicitly mention schools, only DCS, but testimony repeatedly centered on the decisions of schools to not share student name or pronoun preferences with parents. Several other bills filed, but not yet heard, target transgender children in schools.

An Atlanta-based attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said the Christian legal organization knew of several parents who had experiences similar to Cox and cited three Indiana school policies directing educators not to disclose children’s gender identities to parents. 

However, the attorney was unfamiliar with the geographical locations of those schools and couldn’t provide more than anecdotes.

The Southern Poverty Law Center designates ADF as an extremist, anti-LGBTQ hate group and the organization actively coordinates anti-transgender legislation across the country, including Indiana’s ban on transgender female athletes

Corrine Youngs, who often testifies on behalf of Attorney General Todd Rokita before the General Assembly, attended the meeting but didn’t speak — instead conferring with the ADF attorney throughout the hearing.

Full GOP support for the bill

Only the Indiana State Teachers Association testified against the bill, sharing its policy for accepting and affirming of transgender children.

Jerell Blakeley, the union’s director of government, community, race & social justice, said the bill is trying to solve a problem that isn’t there.

“Quite frankly, trans kids exist. No amount of wishing it away is going to change that fact,” Blakeley said.

The bill passed the committee along party lines, 9-4, with just one Republican expressing reservations. 

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“I think gender dysphoria and the gender affirmation journey of a child and family is hard,” Rep. Ann Vermilion, R-Marion, said. “They are both walking that journey… letting them walk that journey together with the parent is fundamental. I think that they need to be part of every journey.”

Vermilion said she supported the bill to continue the discussion but she would continue to research the issue.

When asked Thursday about the bill, and others like it, House Speaker Todd Huston affirmed the caucus’ full support for parental rights bills.

“This piece of legislation is targeted at trans kids,” Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, said before voting no in committee. “You cannot legislate a person’s inner feelings and their beliefs of who they are.”

The bill now moves for consideration before the full House Chamber.


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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.