COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even more than youth who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, transgender teens face some of the country's most extreme rates of anxiety, rejection and public fear based on their identities. Staying in the closet can be stressful; coming out, depending on the situation, can be dangerous.
Transgender advocates said Wednesday a proposed Ohio law could increase that danger tenfold by forcing other adults in a transgender child's life, including teachers, to "out" them to their families without their consent.
"This is really a ridiculous piece of legislation," Living with Change Foundation founder and Pure Romance CEO Chris Cicchinelli, who became involved in LGBTQ activism on behalf of his transgender daughter, said.
House Bill 658, proposed by Republican Reps. Tom Brinkman annd Paul Zeltwanger, would require that "if a government agent or entity has knowledge that a child … demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner opposite of the child's biological sex," it must "immediately notify, in writing, each of the child's parents and the child's guardian or custodian."
House Bill 658 would also mandate that no "treatment," including counseling or educational materials, be provided to to the child without written parental consent. If a teacher wanted to direct a transgender or questioning student to a school counselor or books with more information about gender identity, they could face felony charges for doing so.
Parents who refused to allow their child access to such materials, however, would not face any reprisal.
"Parents have the right to decide what is best for their children," Brinkman said while defending the proposal before fellow representatives.
The law was inspired by the case of a Hamilton County transgender boy whose grandparents won custody after his parents refused to allow him to pursue a transition. Instead of hormone replacement therapy, his parents insisted he receive Christian counseling -- and, according to testimony from the boy, forced him to "live in terror" and told him to kill himself.
Officials from Hamilton County Department of Jobs and Family Services also testified that the parents' home was an unsafe environment for the boy and that they desired "to parent a child who, in reality, no longer exists" rather than care for their son.
In a 2018 Human Rights Campaign survey of LGBTQ youth, about 41 percent of transgender respondents said they were not out to either of their parents. Trans youth were also found twice as likely to be bullied or mocked by family members as lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts.
"I feel that school has never been a safe space for me to be," one respondent wrote. "I don't want my parents to hear that I am transgender."
The danger they face if they come out to an unwelcoming family is real, Lighthouse Youth and Family Services program director Melissa Meyer said.
"We know that when a young person comes out or is out, that's a really vulnerable time for them," she said.
About 37 percent of transgender people attempt suicide before the age of 24, often due to high rates of familial and social rejection, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Meyer runs a program, Safe and Supported Families, meant to help families with young transgender members work through their feelings together and preserve bonds even as parts of their family life change. Its two goals, she said, are keeping children safe and keeping families together.
Brinkman and Zeltwanger's bill will go before the legislature in the fall.