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Michigan Court Of Appeals: Coercing Child Into Gender Role Is ‘Abuse’

Posted on Friday, May 4, 2018

A trial court properly took jurisdiction over a mother’s three children after she allegedly coerced one of them into a gender role with which the child did not identify, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled, finding that the mother’s actions constituted “abuse.”

“[W]e conclude that forcing a child to act as a gender the child does not identify with – whatever gender that is, and whatever gender the parent is attempting to coerce – is certainly the kind of mistreatment by a parent that could cause deep and lasting harm to a child,” the Court of Appeals wrote in In re Churchill/Belinski, Minors (Docket No. 337790, unpublished per curiam opinion, issued 3/15/18).

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Clare County Circuit Court’s order taking jurisdiction over the children and transferring custody of the children to their respective fathers. The Court also affirmed the trial court’s order granting the mother parenting time and directing her to participate in psychological therapy “with a provider of her choice.”

However, in its opinion, the Court of Appeals expressed some concern about the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) reasons for pursuing the petition in the first place. “While we have some reservations about [DHHS’s] motives, we reluctantly are required to affirm,” the Court stated.

Trial Court Takes Jurisdiction

The case primarily involved one of the mother’s children being allegedly coerced into a gender role that the child “had previously expressed some interest in but ultimately did not want.”

After the trial court took jurisdiction over the children, the mother appealed. She argued that even if the assertions in the DHHS petition were true, it was insufficient to take jurisdiction over her children.

The mother also asserted that, if the trial court’s decision was affirmed, it would set a dangerous precedent for parents who are trying to care for their gender nonconforming children based on the most recent professional standards because it would categorize the best practices as abuse.

Meanwhile, DHHS maintained that the evidence in the case was “overwhelming.”

"No Other Option"

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the mother – and also disagreed with DHHS in several respects.

“The evidence was nothing even remotely of the sort,” the Court of Appeals said, referring to DHHS’s claim of “overwhelming” evidence. According to the Court, it was affirming the trial court’s decision “only because the applicable standards of review or mandatory inferences we are required to draw in petitioner’s favor leave us with no other option.”

Notably, the Youth Law Center filed an amicus brief in the matter, arguing it was a case of a child “being taken away from a loving and concerned parent strictly for being transgendered.”

But according to the Court of Appeals, the allegations were “exactly the opposite” – the child was not transgender and the mother “was harming the child by forcing a gender identity onto the child rather than permitting one.”

The Court of Appeals further emphasized that its decision was based on a finding that the law “absolutely cannot countenance, and absolutely deems abusive, forcing a particular gender on a child against the child’s wishes, no matter in which way the gender is forced. In other words, it would constitute abuse to force a child who is transgender to conform to any particular gender identity, as well.”

According to the Court of Appeals, forcing a child to act as a gender the child does not identify with is the kind of mistreatment that could cause long-term harm to a child. In this case, the Court pointed out the child was reportedly not transgender and the mother was allegedly coercing him into a female role against his wishes.

“Such treatment constitutes abuse, and it is therefore a sufficient basis for taking jurisdiction,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “Our conclusion would be identical if [the child] was transgender and respondent was coercing him into a male role against his wishes.”

Based on the seriousness of the allegations, the Court of Appeals said the trial court correctly declined to dismiss the DHHS petition and properly denied the mother’s motion for a directed verdict. The Court further held that the jury verdict was not against the great weight of the evidence.

“Ultimately, despite our concerns, the law precludes this Court from acting as a thirteenth juror, and because it favors resolution of issues on their merits, it constrains us to conclude that the matter was properly submitted to the jury and properly disposed of by the trial court thereafter,” the Court of Appeals concluded.

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