A Transgender Bill Time Out

In March 2022, Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a transgender athletics bill that quite possibly could end his political career.

In his veto letter, Holcomb said that the legislation was a “solution” for a problem that didn’t exist in Indiana. “It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met,” Holcomb wrote. “After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal.”

The governor said the enrolled act fell short of providing a clear and consistent policy.

Last May, the Republican super majorities overrode that veto by wide party-line margins. In June, in an act of retribution against Holcomb-appointed Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, she was defeated for renomination at the Indiana Republican Convention, with a number of delegates telling Howey Politics Indiana that it was a payback for Holcomb’s veto.

This past week, the transgender youth scenario was again in the headlines. Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray assigned HB1407 to the Senate Rules Committee and an almost certain demise. It was filed by State Rep. Dale DeVon after a transgender child had been removed by the Department of Child Services following multiple reports that the child’s mother was emotionally and mentally abusive.

The DeVon bill is one of around 150 such bills filed by Republicans in the 50 state legislatures in a concerted effort to capitalize on transgender issues.

“All’s I’m trying to do is, in this bill, is to protect parents from government’s overreach [in] taking their children from them without having harmed them,” DeVon, R-Granger, said on the House floor (Capital Chronicle). “I don’t know if this bill is the right answer, but our government took that child away ….”

A spokesman said Bray “did not see a path forward” for the bill, both because of concerns about the policy and the ongoing lawsuit that will be heard by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Capital Chronicle covered State Rep. Wendy McNamara’s floor testimony prior to House passage. “I don’t think any parents should be separated from their child and have an undue process to be able to receive that child back,” she said. “But I also feel there is a better route and way for this bill to go. To fix this wrong, she added, “it might put in jeopardy hundreds of other kids in our system.”

As with the transgender athletic bill that was vetoed, I spent a few hours trying to learn of the scope of the issue. There is a compelling lack of data. It was unclear how many DCS cases involve the removal of transgender kids from their families.

What I did learn came from the Indiana Youth Institute. It said 4.5% of Indiana’s population identify as LGBTQ+, and 34% of the LGBTQ+ population has children. As of September 2020, Indiana was home to 43,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 17; 7.8% of this population comprised 3,350 transgender youth. According to Gallup and the Williams Institute, approximately 4.5% of U.S. adults identified as LGBT in 2017 (about 14.65 million people). This includes about 1.4 million people who identify as transgender (0.6% of the U.S. adult population in 2016). In Indiana, 4.5% of Indiana adults identify as LGBT (about 300,000 people). This includes 0.56% who identify as transgender (about 27,600 people).

According to a summary of HD1407 by the Indiana Family Institute, the bill “would elevate parental rights to a fundamental right. It makes clear that parents have a right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their child, and that the government of Indiana may not interfere. The only exceptions that allow government involvement are legitimate abuse and neglect. The bill clarifies several key areas that are not appropriate reasons for government involvement.”

The ACLU of Indiana also weighed in, saying, “This bill would make it illegal for child services agencies to consider failure to provide a safe and affirming environment to a trans youth when deciding whether to remove a child from a potentially abusive home. This bill attempts to capitalize on unfounded public fear that parents will be ‘forced to accept’ trans youth. There simply aren’t examples of Indiana agencies removing children from homes for the sole reason that parents didn’t provide trans-supportive care.”

While the number of DCS cases involving transgender youth is a missing data set, the issue will continue to make headlines.

On the day that Bray killed HB1407, the Anderson Herald Bulletin reported that a Pendleton Heights HS counselor had been fired in “an apparent effort to withhold information from parents about student gender transition decisions.”

Board President Mike Hanna, responding at a March 2 meeting to a pointed question from a parent about whether a gender support plan exists, described it as “a work in progress,” according to the Herald Bulletin.

The key phrases jumping out are DeVon’s (“I don’t know if this bill is the right answer”) and Hanna’s (“work in progress”) assertion from Pendleton Heights.

There’s a great deal to sort out here, with impacts facing transgender kids, perhaps the most vulnerable Hoosiers among us, as well as their families.

Bray was wise to pull HB1407 and await more information on the scope of the dilemma and its impacts.

The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.