House passes bill supporting parents in transgender DCS cases

By: - February 23, 2023 7:00 am

Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger, on the House floor on January 24, 2022. (Courtesy Dale DeVon Flickr)

The Indiana House on Wednesday approved a bill banning courts from removing transgender children from their parents based only on parent refusal to seek gender-affirming care or otherwise support transitions.

The legislation centers on one Hoosier family — and its estranged transgender daughter — whose case is still in court.

“All’s I’m trying to do is, in this bill, is to protect parents from government’s overreach [in] taking their children from them without having harmed them,” bill author Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger, said on the floor.

What the bill does

House Bill 1407 includes a quasi-parents bill of rights, declaring that parents have “the fundamental right to direct” how they raise their children. That includes physical and mental health, education, and any other “inalienable rights” not specifically ceded legally. Government, it says, can’t “infringe” without a good reason.

And the bill says that parents declining to consent to any form of affirmative care — names, pronouns, temporary puberty-blockers, hormone doses, surgical procedures, mental health services or other — doesn’t mean children need the Department of Child Services to step in.

The bill doesn’t apply in cases of abuse or neglect.

DeVon, who chairs the chamber’s families committee, attributed “boys becoming girls and girls becoming boys” to the “breakdown of the family.”

But others worried about the consequences.

“This bill will make it harder to protect our children,” said Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond. “If judges and childcare welfare professionals determine that the environment is putting the child at risk of danger to themselves or to others, it is our responsibility — it is our duty — to get them the care and the health and the assistance that they need.”

Fight in court continues

At the center of the bill is one Anderson family with a transgender daughter.

Mother Mary Cox claimed in committee this month 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.

Later testimony from Cox’s attorney, who represented her in court proceedings against DCS, revealed that the 16-year-old 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.

“I don’t know if this bill is the right answer, but our government took that child away from Mary Cox,” DeVon said. “It’s not because she harmed the child, or neglected that child. She loved that child. She was trying to make the best decision for that child.”

DCS told the Capital Chronicle that it does not open cases solely because parents don’t support transitions.

In Cox’s case, DCS removed the child after reports of the parents verbally abusing the child and refusing to treat the child’s eating disorder. An October ruling from the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed DCS’ actions.

“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 court ruled.

The Indiana Supreme Court might also weigh in.

Bill gets some heat

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, said she “wholeheartedly” agreed with the bill’s declaration of parental rights, but also expressed misgivings with the bill — the only member of her caucus to do so on the floor Wednesday.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville. (Photo from Indiana House Republicans)

McNamara said she feared some language could limit a judge’s ability to make specific decisions and orders, or prevent juvenile courts from appointing guardians ad litem, alongside other concerns.

“I don’t think any parents should be separated from their child and have an undue process to be able to receive that child back,” she said. “But I also feel there is a better route and way for this bill to go.”

“To fix this wrong [from the Cox case], she added, “it might put in jeopardy hundreds of other kids in our system.”

Other lawmakers cautioned that the carveout for transgender children could be harmful.

“The court doesn’t worry about whether it’s a smart fight [between parent and child], or whether it’s right or wrong,” said Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis. “The court is worried about that the kid is starving!”

And he forcefully argued that the General Assembly should let the courts finish deciding the pending litigation.

“We are not the Court of Appeals,” DeLaney said. “This body is in danger of getting on everybody else’s turf. There seems to be no respect for our state institutions.”

DeVon pleaded with lawmakers to advance the bill, asking them to “help us move it across the hall” to the Senate, so more people can weigh in, including judges.

The House passed it 58-33, with mostly Democrats and several Republicans voting against.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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