Prominent Transgender Psychologist Backs Parents’ Rights in Wisconsin School District Case

Two nonprofit law firms challenging Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine School District’s (KMSD) gender-transition policy announced this week they’ve enlisted the expertise of two mental-health professionals including a prominent transgender psychologist.

The center-right Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), headquartered in Milwaukee, and the faith-focused Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), based in Arizona, filed the lawsuit last summer on behalf of parents of a daughter who attended Kettle Moraine Middle School. The anonymous plaintiffs assert that district officials defied their wishes and acceded to the daughter’s request that faculty and staff recognize her as a transgender boy and call her by her preferred male pronouns and chosen name. 

According to the lawsuit, the parents withdrew the girl who changed her mind about wanting to be considered male weeks later. The petitioners want KMSD to reverse what their litigation characterizes as “an unwritten policy requiring school personnel to address and treat children as though they were of the opposite sex without parental consent and even over a parent’s objection.” WILL and ADF have submitted arguments to Waukesha County Circuit Court that the district’s position violates parents’ rights under the federal and state constitutions to “direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” 

To support their case, WILL and ADF hired Dr. Erica E. Anderson, a clinical psychologist and former president of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health (USPATH), to provide expert testimony. Anderson also served as a board member of WPATH, the worldwide group with which USPATH affiliates, and runs a counseling practice in Berkeley, California, specializing in gender, sex, and identity issues. 

Also joining the effort is Stephen Levine, a clinical psychiatrist and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, who has also worked with WPATH on an early version of its therapy guidelines. 

Anderson and Levine both authored affidavits to corroborate the plaintiff’s contentions, which are legal in nature but which the two mental-health specialists believe have serious implications for children’s well-being and parents’ responsibilities. 

The petitioners’ constitutional argument concerns Article 1, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution, which recognizes all persons’ right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Plaintiffs furthermore observe the Wisconsin Supreme Court has interpreted this passage to safeguard the “equal protection and due process rights” covered by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. WILL and ADF note “a long line of [federal and state court] cases” discern these clauses as justifying parents’ claims to manage their children’s upbringing and education. 

In her statement, the male-born Anderson recalls her decision to identify openly as female since 2011 and her background in guiding hundreds of children and adolescents through their gender-identity concerns. She noted that some of those clients eventually chose socially and/or medically to pursue an identity other than their biological sex. 

Her bottom line is twofold: First, what’s right for one child who questions his or her gender identity isn’t always right for another individual; some people are innately inclined to want to be another sex, while others may owe that desire to “societal or cultural factors and may or may not persist.” And second, all parents who provide safe homes for their children must be involved in these decisions.

“I don’t know who in their right mind thinks 11- and 12-year-olds should be making major decisions about their health and well-being that have permanent consequences,” she told The Wisconsin Daily Star. “It’s one thing to be supportive of children and their gender journeys and gender exploring. I’m all for that, but what I take exception to is the idea that a school district would say, ‘Teachers, support these children if they ask to be referred to by a different name and pronouns,’ and, moreover…, if the child says, ‘Oh, please don’t tell my parents,’ you’re obligated to honor that request.’” 

Anderson said acquiescence to the student in that regard amounts to deceiving a guardian with whom educators must be transparent. Fostering such dishonesty, she reasoned, inculcates a harmful message that could compromise communication between the child and his or her parents. 

KMSD’s policy, she added, practically prefigures that students have an interest in shielding their concerns around sex and gender from their parents. On the contrary, she said, in instances when a teacher reasonably suspects a parent of abusing or threatening his or her child, the law requires that teacher to report the concern; thus, a blanket policy presupposing it’s dangerous to inform the parent is unnecessary and counterproductive. 

Anderson said she has faced a variety of reactions in her professional ambit regarding her view of parents’ rights. Some doctrinaire leftists have responded with hostility, she observed, yet many parents including those raising transgender youth have expressed their support. 

“They know that children benefit from loving, competent parents and I think it’s pretty clear most parents love their children [and] try to do what’s best for them,” she said. “So in the situation we’re referring to with that school district, when I became aware of the facts in that situation, I felt it appropriate that I weigh in on behalf of parents who had been not only not informed of things going on at school with their child’s gender but then snubbed when the parents turned around and said to the school, ‘Well, we’re not comfortable with you socially transitioning our child; we think that’s a family matter and we want to consult proper authorities, not have the decision be made solely between our child — in that case an 11-year-old child, and teachers.’”

KMSD attempted to get the case thrown out last year on the grounds that the plaintiff’s daughter no longer attends Kettle Moraine Middle School, but Judge Michael P. Maxwell affirmed the plaintiffs’ standing to sue. In a statement, WILL said the parties have a hearing scheduled for April 19 and anticipate a ruling may come in late spring or summer. 

A spokesperson for the district did not return a call seeking comment.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Wisconsin Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Erica Anderson” by Erica Anderson.


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