Parents, county in court over transgender teen's therapy

CINCINNATI – A 16-year old transgender boy says his father told him to kill himself and his mother wants him in Christian therapy against his wishes.

The boy turned to Hamilton County Job and Family Services for help, and now he’s the subject of a custody fight in Hamilton County Juvenile Court. 

Job and Family Services, which is housing the boy, filed a complaint saying the parents' actions left the boy suicidal and feeling unsafe in their home.

The boy’s grandparents are also seeking custody. The boy is said to be a great kid, good student and a trombone player.

The media wasn't allowed in Judge Sylvia Hendon's courtroom Thursday. She ordered the hearing closed. But the complaint lays out the issues.

It's reminiscent of the Leelah Alcorn case from December 2014. The 16-year-old transitioned to female and took her own life because she didn't feel accepted.

In the current case, the 15-year-old transitioned to male and reported the parents as emotionally and physically abusive.

The boy expressed suicidal intent if forced to return to their home. He reported being forced to sit in a room and listen to bible scriptures for over six hours at a time.

The parents stopped his therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and said they were going to seek a "Christian" therapist.

Daniel Stultz, manager of Safe and Supported at Lighthouse Youth and Family Services, said that's the wrong tactic.

“We know that when a young person is told they can't go to therapy to really support who they are that has really detrimental effects,” Stultz said. “Imagine being told that some really important part of yourself isn't valid, isn't important, isn't respected. That has huge impacts on how we view ourselves and our self-worth.”

But conversion therapy is destructive, Stultz said.

“Conversion therapy is banned in the City of Cincinnati and there's a reason that it's banned.  We know it harms young people,” Stultz said.

 “Conversion therapy is inhuman,” said Jonah Yokoyama, director of Heartland Trans Wellness Group. “It is torture. It kills people.”

Yokoyama says conversion therapy should be banned nationwide.

“We need it to have real implications — something that will keep someone from trying to access conversion therapy or more importantly practice conversion therapy,” Yokoyama said.

Both experts said breaking down barriers to open communication is critical and there are resources available to help.

“There's things like PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Greater Cincinnati) and GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) which both work with families and young people that are LGBTQ,” said Stultz. 

Education is the key that unlocks understanding for both parents and children, they said.

 “There's so much misinformation about being trans out there. Try to fine reputable sources,” said Yokoyama. “If you're in the Cincinnati area there are a lot of great organizations that can help you out — from Children's Hospital to Heartland Trans Wellness - the group that I run … Lighthouse Youth Services, more than that as well.”

According to the JFS complaint, a therapist told the teen's father in October 2016 that the teen lacks "the coping skills to manage the home situation," prompting his mother to send an email saying she and her husband would seek a Christian therapist.

The teen's parents halted therapy at the hospital late last year but then resumed it because of his anxiety and depression.

The teen tried to read a letter to his parents during a meeting at Children's Hospital in December 2016, prompting his mother to stand up, point a finger at him, and scream, "You're a liar," according to the complaint.

The teen began shaking and curled up into "the fetal position," the complaint says.

Thursday’s court hearing lasted all day without a decision and will continue on Dec. 14.

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