Chicago — One morning in June, Flower Nichols and her mother set out on an expedition to Chicago from their home in Indianapolis. The family was determined to make it feel like an adventure through the city, even though that was not the main purpose of the trip.
The next afternoon, Flower and Jennilyn Nichols visited a doctor at the University of Chicago to see if they could give 11-year-old Flower medication to block puberty. They began looking for medical providers outside of Indiana after April 5, when Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law a law barring transgender minors from accessing puberty blockers and other hormone therapies, even if they had their parents’ approval. and the advice of doctors.
At least 20 US states have enacted laws restricting or prohibiting gender-affirming care for transgender minors, though most are embroiled in legal challenges. Before, and for more than a decade, such treatments were available to children and adolescents in the United States and have been endorsed by major medical associations.RELATED
Opponents of gender-affirming care say there is no strong evidence for its purported benefits, cite widely discredited research, and maintain that children should not make life-changing decisions they may regret. Advocates and families affected by recent laws say such care is vital for trans children.
On June 16, a federal judge blocked parts of Indiana’s law from taking effect on July 1, but many patients still struggled to continue receiving their treatment.
Jennilyn Nichols wanted her trip to Chicago to be defined by happy memories. They would explore the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the way home, they would stop at a candy store.
She decided to maintain a sense of normalcy: well, that’s just what families do.
Many families in Indiana, Mississippi and other states are looking to deal with new laws that implicate or sometimes directly accuse parents of child abuse for supporting their children in gaining access to gender-affirming health care.
Some trans kids and teens say the bans send a simple message: that they can’t be themselves. That leaves desperate parents looking out of state for medical care that can help their children thrive.
“What expressive transgender youth need is what all youth need: they need love and support, and they need unconditional respect,” says Robert Marx, Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Development at San Jose State University. Marx studies support systems for LGBTQ+ and transgender people ages 13-25. “They need to feel included and part of a family.”
Some Indiana families turned to the support group GEKCO, founded by Krisztina Inskeep, whose adult son is transgender.
“I think most parents want to do what’s best for their children,” Inskeep says. “It’s pretty new to people this idea that gender is not just binary and that your child is not who they thought they were born with.”
The perceptions of most parents, Marx adds, do not clearly align with the extremes of supporting or outright rejecting their children’s identities.
On June 13, Flower and Jennilyn left Indianapolis with a care plan from Indiana University Riley Children’s Hospital, the state’s only gender clinic. The decision to start puberty-blocking drugs two years ago was not one the family made lightly.
Jennilyn recalled asking early on if her daughter’s gender expression was permanent. Finally, she listened to her daughter and knew that she never had any doubts.
Conversations between Flower and her mother are often marked by an uncommon frankness.
“Before I met you and before I went on this journey with you,” Jennilyn told him, “I wouldn’t have thought that a child would know they were trans or that a child would just be programmed that way.”
Now, Jennilyn claims her concerns have moved to Flower’s spelling skills or how she’ll handle her crushes. She now considers her earlier anxieties irrational.
Flower explains that she and her parents make medical decisions together because, “of course, they can’t decide what medicine I should take.”
“At the same time, you can’t choose a drug that we can’t afford or that, you know, could hurt you,” Jennilyn replies.
In Mississippi, a ban on gender-affirming care became state law on February 28, prompting a father and his trans son to leave the state in late July so the teen could find medical care elsewhere. state, in Virginia.
Ray Walker, a 17-year-old distinguished student, lives with his mother, Katie Rives, in a suburb of Jackson. His parents are divorced, but his father also lived in the area.
When Tate Reeves, the Republican governor of Mississippi, signed the bill banning hormone therapy for anyone under 18, he accused “radical activists” of promoting a “sick and twisted ideology that seeks to convince our children of They’re in the wrong body.”
As the provision of gender-affirming care became scarce and was later banned, Walker’s father, who declined to be interviewed, took a job in Virginia. Rives, however, remains in Mississippi with his two youngest children.
Walker says he is still haunted by memories of the harrowing period when he started puberty at age 12. “My body couldn’t take what was happening to it,” he said.
After a year-long testing process, followed by puberty blockers and hormone injections, Walker says his self-image has improved. And then came the ban.
“Mississippi is my home, but there are a lot of mixed feelings when your home actively tells you it doesn’t want you there,” Walker explains.
The family sees no alternative. As Walker’s move-in date approaches, Rives savors the moments they share. She says that she feels lucky, as not all families can afford to travel out of state for her.
“We know that we are in an incredibly privileged position,” adds Rives.
Flower’s favorite activities are often less related to politics than to her status as a teenager-to-be. She is a Girl Scout who enjoys catching Pokémon with her brother Parker, 7 years old. As she drinks a milkshake and eats vegan grilled cheese at a Chicago restaurant, she blithely reminisces about her itinerary.
“For starters, we’re going to be able to relax at the hotel in the morning,” Flower says. “Secondly, there is a park nearby where we can have a lot of fun. Third, we may have an alternate plan, which is really exciting. And, fourthly: Candy store!
The next day’s appointment gave them another reason to celebrate: If care wasn’t available in Indiana, they could get it in Illinois.
“Indiana could do whatever the hell it wants,” Jennilyn says, “and we can just come here.”