Gender Expansive Youth Legal Matters
An interesting article in the Michigan Bar Journal, December 2017 edition titled “Legal Issues Facing Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth,” by Angie Martell brings to light many current and potential legal considerations for children and teens.
The article reads, “Transgender and gender-expansive individuals face more and more hidden barriers and injustices. Is the strict adherence to a two-
sex paradigm not only inconsistent with science but discriminatory?”
has been practicing in Michigan for more than 20 years and finds many of the article’s topics fascinating and pertinent. “So many legal issues are tackled first by adults and then the precedent trickles down to youth where we try to adapt it. With this particular topic, teens seem to be prominent in what I consider to be a civil rights evolution.”
Gender-identification matters are especially complex because they involve legal, ethical, educational, medical, religious and political issues. Throw in parental rights vs. children’s rights and you have the potential for some voracious legal battles. Since the topic is so complicated, the article and this blog present more questions than answers. These are questions that we, as attorneys, citizens and parents are watching closely.
Pronouns and Name Changes
Little by little, colleges and other organizations are beginning to experiment with utilizing non-traditional (he/she) pronouns. At some point, courts and government agencies may look into alternatives like “they” or “ze” to refer to all people, regardless of gender. In the future, college applications and Secretary of State forms may add a third option for gender specification or eventually get rid of gender declaration all together.
Another issue where teens are taking the lead is in name changes. Many high school students al
ready recognize that government and schools are getting information based on social security numbers and assigned student ID numbers. As such, some are approaching name changes more casually than prior generations. In the distant past, accurate name reporting was the only means for tracking such things and birth records, high school diplomas, employment and marriage statistics. Michigan laws still require a court petition for a name change, but with preteens – who do not have a mortgage, driver’s license, or bank accounts – it might be easier for them to experiment with having friends and teachers call them by the preferred name while still using their legally assigned name for infrequent official documents. They can always make their name change official later when they want to apply for student loans or get a job. This is a matter that legal system may address in the future as well.
Legislation regarding gender expansive youth medical decisions
Teenagers are in precarious position between autonomy and parental control when it comes to medical decisions. They need parental permission to get their ears pierced or tattoos let alone major, life-changing decisions like altering their gender. One topic that is especially rife with controversy is hormone blockers. Pre-teens (age 10-12) can take them prior to puberty to stave off physical changes like breast growth or facial hair while they decide how to align their physical appearance with the gender they identify with. The use of hormone blockers is controversial because some people believe that grade-schoolers are not grown up enough to be able to make a major decision like altering their gender.
Sometimes gender expansive youth need protection from their own families
Gender expansive youth may be rejected by parents resulting in homelessness and minor crimes like trespassing, loitering, or shoplifting. Some parents disagree about accepting their children’s gender identity or sexual orientation and it can create marital problems as well. In the future, the courts may need to consider how each parent feels about their children’s gender identity when deciding custody matters.
Dorm Rooms/Sports Locker Rooms/Public Restrooms
Schools and community recreation groups are being faced with the issue of providing appropriate facilities for all students regardless of their gender orientation. Youth sports teams will also need to address the issue of transgender students’ assignment to biological vs. selected-gender squads.
Disproportionate disciplinary actions
It is well acknowledged that non-cis or homosexual youths may be the victims of greater instances ofbullying in schools and society. However, many are doubly victimized when they are punished for defending themselves. “[S]tudies reveal that gay and transgender youth are often mislabeled as aggressors in school conflicts, rather than seen as victims,” as cited in the December 2017 Michigan Bar Journal article, “Legal Issues Facing Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth.”
Sex offender designation
There is a misconception that “non-conforming” or “non-traditional” equals deviant. Some people believe that since gender expansive youth are ignoring formerly commonly accepted designations, that they may also be flouting other commonly-accepted social standards. “Gay and transgender youth are more likely to be prosecuted for age-appropriate consensual sexual activity than their heterosexual peers. In some cases, gay, lesbian, trans-gender, and gender-expansive youth may be ordered by the court to enter sex offender treatment programs or undergo sex offense risk assessments because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,“ according to the Michigan Bar Journal article, “Legal Issues Facing Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth” by Angie Martell.
Outing a gender expansive youth against their will
Lawyers need to be especially careful with sensitive information that could become part of the public record in cases where a youth’s gender expression or sexual preference is private.
As a Michigan family law attorney, Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler is interested in the many-nuanced issues for gender expansive youth and adults. She and her entire staff are sensitive and understanding to the injustices that teenagers and young adults face when they express themselves.
The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates practice family law throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston counties as well as four mid-Michigan counties Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw and Roscommon. The attorneys handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Wixom; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Linden; Fenton; Flint; Grand Blanc; Holly; South Lyon; New Hudson; Howell; Clare; Gladwin; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; and many more Michigancommunities.
Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates