Devoted mum of trans girl trains as lawyer to fight for her right to play sports
One mum’s response to a wave of anti-trans sports bans that could affect kids like her’s truly puts the meaning into the phrase “devoted parent”.
Katie and her daughter, Maddie Jenifer, live in North Carolina – one of 37 US states that have put forward anti-trans bills that would bar trans women and girls from playing on female sports teams
A Guardian feature describes how Maddie, 13, has always been one of a gang of girls, dressing up in her Sunday school teacher’s high heels as a toddler and dressing how she want to at home. But her parents made her present as male outside the house, and she was miserable and withdrawn.
“I think God messed up,” the toddler reportedly told her mother once. “I think I’m the girl and Grace [Maddie’s sister] is the boy.”
One day when she was five, Maddie told her mum she wanted to hurt herself. “She saw parts of her body that didn’t align with how she felt, so she said she wanted to cut it off,” Katie told the Guardian. “That really scared me. I hadn’t heard her speak like that before. I hadn’t known she was thinking of those kinds of things.”
That’s when Maddie’s parents took her to a therapist, who evaluated her and pointed out that she’d never wavered in her belief that she was a girl. That summer, between kindergarten and first grade, Maddie’s parents let her socially transition – letting her dress how she wanted wherever she was, and using female pronouns for her.
“She immediately changed from a very withdrawn, depressed little kid to a very happy, vibrant, and outgoing kid – literally overnight,” Katie told the outlet.
But although she had her parents’ support, Maddie didn’t always have an easy time of it when it came to being trans. The “Mommy and Me” tumbling class for girls that Katie tried to register them at turned her away. On her first day of first grade, the local TV news station sent reporters to the school to interview parents and children about the trans kid.
“It set off a firestorm,” said Katie. “That was the first moment where I asked myself if we’d need a lawyer.” When Maddie was eight, Katie got a call from the parks and recreation department, telling her that Maddie couldn’t compete on her girls softball team because of a policy that meant participants had to have a female birth certificate.
“Nobody came to enforce it” on that occasion, Katie explained. She knew it was only a matter of time. But instead of hiring a lawyer, Katie went one step further – she went to law school.
HB2 – North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill” – was “the last straw” for Katie. She lived apart from her family for a time to go to law school.
Maddie continued to be challenged, but she also continued to play sports. She was co-captaining her school’s cheerleading squad and soon to play her first softball game of the season when the pandemic struck.
This April, she was one of scores of trans kids around the US who went to their state legislatures to protest bills attacking trans kids, their healthcare and their places on sports teams.
“I’m glad I was there and I could hear what they were saying and trying to argue – that they were right and we were wrong,” the Guardian heard from Maddie, whose newly graduated lawyer mother did most of the talking. “It was difficult to hear them say trans kids aren’t real boys or girls. It’s hard to hear them contemplating my existence.”
“It may sound just like a small thing – participating in a sport, but it’s so much more than that,” Katie reportedly told lawmakers. “It’s about being on a team just like any other girl. It’s about feeling included and accepted just for who she is.”
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