An Open Letter to MO House Reps Adam Schnelting (Dist. 104) and Suzie Pollock (Dist. 123) RE: HB 1721 and 5021

I sat watching the live feed of the Missouri House of Representatives hearing on the night of March 3, 2020. I listened as House Bills 1721 and 5021 were presented in tandem by you, Reps. Schnelting and Pollock. I heard the gentleman you invited to speak in support of your proposed legislation. As questions crossed from voices on the dais and answers were returned from those seated at the lectern, I listened to every word.

You don’t know me. Neither of you represent where I live in St. Louis County and we’ve never had occasion to meet. However, in your capacity as elected officials the bearing of the decisions you influence or render on behalf of or in the best interests of your constituents creates waves farther reaching than St. Charles, Camden, and Laclede counties; and the lives of those people are at times forever changed.

It’s those lives that I’d like to consider today. You’ve no doubt met some of these folks. The room was filled with them on that Tuesday night. Some sat painfully quiet as they listened while you supported your Bills and tried to convince their Representatives to side with you against them. Others risked expulsion from the room for their panicked utterances as they listened in horror of what you’ve proposed in the best interest of Missouri’s children – the transgender children to be specific.

Missouri Representative Suzie Pollock District 123 | Republican

It is out of regard for these people – nee in the best interest of them – that I am compelled to write. They may not all dwell within your footprint of the state, but they are definitely all my people. You see, I am a transgender man who lives in Missouri and you have thrown down the gauntlet in my community. And if you think anyone on the side of the right decision has plans to back down on either of these bills, then you haven’t been paying attention. Truth be told – we don’t even an own a white flag.

So, let’s settle in and take a look at this, shall we? Feel free to grab a cup of coffee before we continue, or tea if you’d like. I’ll wait. This is far too important, and since you’ve been given the courtesy of us listening to you; respectfully, we’d like the same reciprocated. Oh, I know…you heard from dozens of people at the hearing. Honestly, each of you had three minutes to expel your supportive untruths and inaccuracies while most speaking in opposition were granted only thirty seconds? I mean no disrespect to the process, but let’s be fair here.

You’ve both claimed that lives are at stake with these Bills and that, my friends, may be the biggest truth you’ve ever told. The question is, “at whose hands?”

First, you claim that these House Bills 1721 and 5021 are not anti-trans or anti-LGBTQ. This is not true. The language in these Bills does not speak of anyone other than transgender youth and their families.

In an effort to garner support for your Bills your “expert” presented data he stated that he received from a doctor, who he identified as an expert on the treatment of transgender children.

  1. That doctor currently works at Washington University Hospital as a Pediatrician and an Associate Professor of Endocrinology. He does not treat transgender patients and should not be relied to speak to the subject. That doctor is also an “expert for hire.” He is hired and paid by known anti-LGBTQ organizations to speak out against treatment of trans kids; making him a biased and unreliable source.
  2. The data that your “expert” shared claiming that 85% of trans youth grow out of their gender dysphoria is from an outdated and no longer valid study performed in 1995 by Zucker and Bradley. The Steensma study in 2013 paints a clearer picture that invalidates the Zucker and Bradly claims. Did you fact check your expert? Allowing the presentation to include incorrect data was deceitful and in poor judgment on your parts. 
  3. What were you thinking by using a man who practices conversion therapy as corrective means for treating and/or counseling LGBTQ youth? Are you not aware that in a number of states there is legislature pending or that has recently been passed that bans conversion therapy? Precedence can be a powerful tool – for your opposition in this case, frankly.

You would have us believe that in the State of Missouri trans kids are currently receiving medical procedures as treatment for their gender dysphoria, yet you could not produce evidence of any medical facilities or medical professionals who are performing said procedures. And when asked, the doctors from The Transgender Center at Children’s Hospital – there as experts opposing your Bills – explained that to their knowledge, no such surgeries are taking place.

Missouri Representative Adam Schnelting District 104 | Republican

The doctors, who both see transgender youth patients regularly, went on to explain during their combined six minutes of presentation that there are Standards of Care in place that medical professionals must follow when treating their patients. At one point in the evening when you were asked, you denied that such Standards even exist.

Let’s move on to the opposition, shall we?

We’ve touched on some of what the doctors covered. Perhaps you remember, as I do, that they shared concern about the suicide rate of transgender youth. I’m going to assume you believe this is of great importance, as well. You did posit both of these Bills as safety nets for the kids’ welfare at the onset of your presentation, after all.

Also discussed were the puberty blockers – a hot topic of the evening – and another case where conflicting positions stood. One would think that a parent might choose to listen to the doctors close to the subject, who have fully researched their use and the possible effects over a lawmaker. One would be right to make that decision. You know…in the best interest of the children, of course.

And how about those kids, huh? To have the wherewithal to stand up to lawmakers after listening to the supporting testimony is nothing short of fearless. But here’s the thing. This is not the first time some of these kids and their parents and their grandparents and their neighbors have had to speak up for themselves. And it won’t be the last, although we are all looking forward to that day.

I reached out to a number of people to see how they were feeling after that hearing. We spoke via email, text, and phone. Over a week had passed since the hearing. Over a week of still waiting to see what happens next. Over a week of kids still scared that treatments they have already begun to take – that are working – would be taken from them. Over a week of families wondering if those who are tasked with putting protections on the good people of Missouri would really opt for tearing apart families and charging parents and medical staff with Class D Felonies over allowing the practice of evidence-based medical care to continue.

Much can happen in a little over a week. Guess what? Fear, anger, and passion can grow exponentially in that many days. And boy did it. I’m just going to hit some of the highlights of my conversations for you. I apologize if this takes a little longer than my allotted 30 seconds, though. Please, bear with me.

“But these anti-transgender bills have me greatly concerned. In essence the legislators are saying as parents we aren’t capable of making the best decisions for our own families and that we don’t have our own child’s best interest at heart.” – a concerned parent from St. Louis who continues to call you to voice opposition to the Bills.

“I’m sorry, I am so emotional because it feels as though we are being attacked from all directions and it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Some of the most educated and respected individuals from the best universities concur and yet our politicians don’t believe them?  We have judges who refuse to use the preferred pronouns.  How in this day in age can we be regressing?  Our daughter socially transitioned on April 10, 2019 and it has been a very long and difficult road.  Why does no one see they are simply humans like all of us.  We all have differences in our bodies, our intelligence and our backgrounds?  I’m sorry, I know I’m preaching to the choir and in no way expect you to answer my questions, I’m just so deflated and scared.”a mother who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear for her daughter

“The mere existence of these bills and authority they are given by their respective committees are a risk to my child.  At the very least, they demonstrate that we, she, are not welcome in the state she where she was born.  At their worst, they legitimize hateful thought and speech in our community and embolden others among us to express their own hatred, both in verbal and physical forms.  Neither is acceptable.  My child is no trans warrior who set out to disrupt some St. Charles’ preacher’s world.  She didn’t willfully bring any of this on.  She’s an innocent 10-year-old and deserves the same rights as every other 10-year-old.  She deserves to have a home where she is safe from zealots and the bigots they inspire.

Should these bills become law, the implications are clear, we will leave the state of Missouri.  We will not allow medical decisions affecting our family be made by anyone other than our health care providers.  We will not risk her health by foregoing critical, life-saving, medically necessary healthcare.  If the state of Missouri prohibits such care, we will have no choice but to relocate out of state.  We could not, just as no parent could, risk losing our child.” Jeff H., the dad of a 10-year-old trans kid

“My name is Mazy Gilleylen, I came here today to tell you that I’m a human first before anything else.

Why does it matter so much what is in my pants to you.

I’m a girl, simply a girl.

I want to be able to do simple things like go to the bathroom, go to school, go to the pool, and yes go to the doctor.

The fact that I had to travel here to tell you these things is sad to me.

Why do you not just see that I deserve basic rights, and I shouldn’t have to travel 300 miles to stop adults from making a law that would prevent me from being able to go to the doctor.

When will I count? When will I matter to you? When is enough enough? Please do what is right. Please let me live in peace with my basic rights.” – Mazy Gilleylen, spoken before Legislators on March 2

“You seem to think us as parents don’t know what is best for our children…if only people would stop worrying so much about what’s in my child’s pants and focus more on what the NEEDS of these children are!

Remember up to 43% of trans teens will attempt suicide in their lifetimes. If you take away this vital medical care by passing this bill there is no doubt there will be trans children’s blood on YOUR hands.” – Amber Gilleylen, Mazy’s mom; as spoken to the Legislators during the March 2 hearing

“I have an 8-year-old trans daughter. I’m keeping an eye out for when XXXX starts to hit puberty so we can get her on hormone blockers, and I’m worried that it won’t be possible to get them in the coming years when she needs them.  I would really hate for her to have to go through male puberty and have to wait for female hormones until after she’s 18 and already grown all of those secondary male sex characteristics, because she knows NOW and she isn’t confused about wanting to grow up to be a woman.  She’s even asked me about having babies and being a mommy.” – Carly, a mom

“We do feel the lack of support. They are weaponizing our children. Just let us live in peace.” – Chris, a mom and ACLU – MO volunteer advocate/lobbyist

“It’s unreasonable to stop treatment after you’re on it. I had a bad mental state of mind before and got stable fast. I would be dead if I had to stop. I’d be dead.” – Myles, a 15-year-old trans male

“The language in these bills is concerning. It criminalizes parents. Parents aren’t doing this lightly. We do our due diligence. The physical part of treatment is an important part. We just want our children to be alive.” – Stephanie, Myles’ mom

Trans Rally | Photo Getty Images

Need a minute to regroup? I can understand as a pastor and a trained medical professional that this human aspect can hit a person pretty hard. But, guess what? You can lead a congregation through a powerful service, Rep. Schnelting and Rep. Pollock, I can only imagine the pressure you have when inserting a heart cath; but I’m sure we can all agree that neither of these scenarios makes you transgender. And if you are not trans; you, like these parents, must rely on those who are trans to tell you what’s going on.

If your kid has a stomach ache, you listen to them, seek necessary medical attention, then treat them. Oh, I know – a stomach ache is nothing like being transgender. Believe me, I do know. Just imagine how frustrating it is to feel poorly and not be able to do anything about it, though. Then imagine how much worse it feels when you know there’s relief, but you can’t have it. Let’s take it a step further: now not only are you denied relief, and not only are you are forced to walk day-by-day through life living in a body that is not yours, you have to face the fact that years down the road you will be forced to undergo any number of medical procedures that could have been prevented, just to finally feel like yourself.

Okay, I know I’m just a trans guy trying to make sense of what you are trying to pass off as sensible. Why listen to me?  Well, let me share this with you from a trained mental health professional from Webster Groves, Missouri.

My name is Kelly Storck. I have been working in gender care for over 10 years. This means I have a deep understanding of transgender people–their lives, their worries, their challenges, their need for and responses to medical treatment. My two decades in mental health care coupled with over a decade of gender care work allows me to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that these anti-transgender healthcare bills would have devastating impacts to the mental health and overall wellness of transgender children in our state. I am 100% certain that this bill will lead to significant increases in the loss of young lives by suicide. A vote of no is all it takes to avoid these tragic consequences. The right for patients, families and trained medical professionals to pursue informed care in the best interest of the child must be protected. Surely that is not best decided by lawmakers with little acceptance and understanding of the trans experience. The research, the wisdom of highly experienced medical professionals who treat trans kids and the lived experiences of trans children should lead our care decisions. There are already extensive guidelines and procedures in place that are widely hailed as best practices by all major leading medical organizations. The evidence is clear, and these bills run in direct opposition to the evidence. You have a responsibility to help protect the children of our state. I appreciate any and all efforts you make to keep these dangerous and uninformed bills from moving out of your committee. – Kelly Storck, LCSW

So, where does this leave us? You tell me, because I truly do not know. Admittedly, I’m unclear on a number of things. So, help me understand.

Oh, I know you’ve convinced yourselves that you’re doing the right thing. That’s part of the danger. You were both so adamant in your responses to questions from the other Legislators that you refused to consider that you just might be wrong or may need to do some further research. I know that I don’t always like to admit when I’m wrong; but, I am not proposing laws that would so critically impact the dynamics of entire families; imprison well-trained care-givers and threaten the lives of our youth.

To say you back these “to protect the children” without so much as one shred of valid substantiation is not enough. I can accept that you may not in your daily goings on be aware of all that is out there in the field of transgender medicine, but I won’t accept that you would not be diligent in your research or be open-minded enough to consider that there might be more to all of this than first appeared. That’s what a good representative of the people does to properly care for their constituents. Or do you take us for fools?

When ACLU – MO and Promo Missouri have to step in to protect the children in this state, that tells those of us who elected you that you are not acting it the best interests of your voters. When Bills are heard with such an obvious imbalance of evidence to support and oppose as HB1721 and HB5021, that’s an unambiguous indicator that they should not move forward.

Are you so entrenched in your holier than thou personal beliefs that you cannot open your minds and hearts to what is right in front of you? Can you truthfully and in good morality continue to let these Bills stand? To what end?  

I suggested early in this letter that you are in for a fight. That couldn’t have been a surprise to you. You saw the crowd that turned out on March 2. Those families and advocates waited hours to have a chance to speak for 30 seconds. 30 seconds!  You know what? They’d do it again because that’s how you fight hatred veiled in acts of good. Pushing the start time for the hearing didn’t lessen their desire to speak. People didn’t go home because it was getting late. They turned their fatigue into fuel and channeled it to lift each other up. Because, that’s what family does. That’s how people look out for each other. That’s how you advocate for another’s best interests. You don’t make them feel “less than.” And you never ever knowingly put their lives at risk.

No one is asking for the impossible. Transgender people want the same basic human rights to which all are entitled. And they want to live. Just let the kids live.

I thank you for your time.

Terry Willits

You can track Missouri Bills here: ACLU-MO BILL TRACKER

HB1721:

Prohibits medical providers from administering any medical or surgical treatment for the purpose of gender reassignment for anyone under the age of eighteen

HB2051:

Adds that a person commits the offense of abuse or neglect of a child if such person assists, coerces, or provides for a child to undergo any surgical or hormonal treatment for the purpose of gender reassignment

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Terry Willits

Trans Speak's Editor-in-Chief is an international mixed media artist, writer, LGBTQ advocate, coffee snob, dog dad, and FTM transgender - but not necessarily in that order, who practices what he posts. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; he now does the writing thing from St. Louis, Missouri. You should check out his work - it's recommended by 4 out of 5 people that recommend stuff.

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