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“As a parent, your first instinct is always to defend your child—even if internally, the conversation you’re having is much different.”
May 11, 2017

It was our youngest child’s second day of kindergarten and I got the call every parent dreads. “Your child just said something incredibly disturbing, you need to come to the school immediately so we can discuss this.”

So there I was, waiting in anticipation when the vice principal pulls me in and tells me,“Your child told their teacher: ‘I have a secret, I am going to be a girl when I grow, please call me she.’ What do you expect me to do about this?”

In a moment of defiance, I boldly replied “well, call her ‘she’ then.”

As a parent, your first instinct is always to defend your child—even if internally, the conversation you’re having is much different. I was confused. I was in shock. So I went home and googled: “my son says he wants to be a girl.”

What came up was just as confusing. Every website talked about being transgender and I had no clue what that meant. Kids don’t come with a manual and they sure as heck don’t come with a transgender manual. So I reached out to youth centers, counselors—really, any and everyone I could think of. I called a children’s hospital in New York, no answer. I called a phone number in Minnesota and left a message. I called over to Seattle and left another message.

“As a parent, your first instinct is always to defend your child—even if internally, the conversation you’re having is much different. I was confused. I was in shock. So I went home and googled: ‘my son says he wants to be a girl.'”

Personally, I believe in fate, serendipity and kismet. I started graduate school two weeks after this initial conversation and was able to dig deeply into the library. I shared everything I was learning with my husband and we learned pretty quickly: we could bury our son or we could support our daughter.

That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. Transgender people are 10 times more likely than members of the general public to attempt suicide—a statistic that’s driven in part by the fact that transgender people experience more discrimination, harassment and violence just because of who they are.

That’s why there are laws on the books in Washington that protect transgender people from discrimination and harassment.

There’s something else at work in that statistic too, though: Sometimes transgender people, especially children, are told—or forced—to hide their authentic selves, which can really damage their self-esteem.

We didn’t want any of this for our daughter. Neither myself or my husband grew up in supportive homes, and we swore we were going to be different than our parents. So, even though we were surprised by the news—who wouldn’t be?—we chose to support our daughter.

“The fact that Washington has transgender non-discrimination protections has really helped her live her truth. We live in an area where people in similar situations mostly stay hidden. But Rachel doesn’t want to—and she doesn’t have to, because if she ever feels unsafe, or a public business tries to discriminate against her because of who she is, the law is on her side. The law tells Rachel she is valued, and worthy of protection.”

She’s flourishing now, and has such clarity about who she is and she is steadfast in her truth.

And the fact that Washington has transgender non-discrimination protections has really helped her live her truth. We live in an area where people in similar situations mostly stay hidden.

But Rachel doesn’t want to—and she doesn’t have to, because if she ever feels unsafe, or a public business tries to discriminate against her because of who she is, the law is on her side. The law tells Rachel she is valued, and worthy of protection.

It’s unconscionable to me that some people think transgender children like Rachel don’t deserve to feel safe, and want to get rid of the law that protects her. Opponents of equality are collecting signatures right now that could put an initiative repealing these protections—I-1552—on the November ballot.

“We learned so much about what it meant to be transgender, but it was Rachel who really taught our family how to accept her. We have a small support group and a new, amazing church congregation that emphasizes that we don’t need to decide between our child and our faith.”

I think the more people hear stories like Rachel’s, and meet transgender children like her, the more they’ll see how necessary these protections are. I’ll admit, when Rachel first began living as her authentic self, we didn’t totally understand everything.

It was Rachel who really taught our family how to accept her. In the early years of her transition, she let our family slowly come to terms with calling her Rachel at home, but made sure to correct us in public. It felt like she was gently guiding us through a journey, taking moments to look back so that we could all catch up to her.

And, boy, it has been a rigorous ride at times. We have a small support group and a new, amazing church congregation that emphasizes that we don’t need to decide between our child and our faith. Still, sometimes our family, including our four additional children, are left to figure it out ourselves.

For my reserved husband, the worst part is the uncomfortable questions we don’t always have the best answers to. Even though I am usually an open book, there is one question that raises my hackles. It is when people shake their head and ask why would we chose this course for our child.

It’s a ridiculous question. While being a part of a community that is marginalized by society is not the life I would want for my daughter, she is who she is. We love Rachel and we will do anything to make sure that she has the best life possible.

One thing we must do is protect Washington’s transgender non-discrimination protections. Right now, we’re working to get 50,000 Washingtonians signed up with the Decline to Sign I-1552 campaign that’s working against this initiative. Will you be one of them? Click here to pledge your opposition to bringing discrimination to Washington.