Weeping mum of trans child powerfully challenges Mike Pence on anti-LGBTQ+ policies

Mike Pence

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Pence was confronted by the crying parent of a trans child about his anti-LGBTQ+ track record and the deadly impact of political attacks on trans people in the US.

Pence – who served as vice president under Donald Trump – has opposed LGBTQ+ rights throughout his political career, campaigning against equal marriage and the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prevented queer people from openly serving in the military.

As part of his 2024 presidential campaign, he has pledged to bar transgender people from serving in the military, and promised to “protect our kids from radical gender ideology” if elected to America’s highest office.

At a NewsNation town hall on Wednesday (13 September), Dr Melissa McCollister, a professor of social work at Grand View University, Iowa and LGBTQ+ mum of a trans child, forced Pence to defend his record on LGBTQ+ rights in a powerful address.

Called upon to pose a question to Pence, McCollister, who was visibly in tears, said: “I am an LGBTQ member and I have trans individuals in my family.

“Recent anti-LGBTQ bills have been signed into law all around the United States, including here in Iowa.”

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signed two anti-trans laws in March, banning gender-affirming care for trans minors and barring trans students from school bathrooms and changing rooms that corresponded with their gender identity.

“So far, in 2023, 15 transgender individuals and gender non-conforming people have been murdered,” McCollister continued, as reported by The Independent.

“The vast majority of those people have been Black and Latinx transgender women.

“What is your policy plan to protect the transgender community, specifically Black and brown trans women from historically high levels of violence?”

Pence responded by telling McCollister: “I’m moved by your emotion”, before pledging that if he is elected, he will ensure the “protection of every American and the rights of every American whether that square with my values or not”.

The Republican presidential hopeful went on to describe himself as a “Bible-believing Christian” who believes in “the freedom of religion”, asking McCollister to “hear my heart on this” before launching into an anti-trans response.

“For me, what adults do in their lives, decisions that they make, including transgender adults, is one thing, but for kids under the age of 18 – there’s a reason why we don’t let you drive ’til you’re 16,” Pence stated.

“In the state of Indiana, you can’t get a tattoo until after you’re 18, you can’t drink until after you’re 21, that’s because we understand that kids don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions.

“When it comes to surgical or chemical procedures … I really believe that we’ve got to protect our kids from decisions that will affect them the balance of their lives, while at the same time saying adults can make decisions according to the dictates of their own conscience.”

In US – as is the case of the majority of countries around the world – gender-affirming surgery for under-18s is already not legal.

McCollister responded by calling Pence’s view that children shouldn’t be able to make decisions about their identity or seek support at school “appalling”.

“I am a social worker. I’ve been in this profession for 25 years,” she said.

“I have worked with kids as young as five years old that have gender non-conforming and identities that are transgender, and I’ve raised one.

“And so to hear somebody tell me that it’s not okay for young children to make decisions about their gender identity and to ask their school officials for support, protection and help is appalling.”

McCollister also described being threatened by white supremacist KKK members “on my doorstep” in 2020 because she started an LGBTQ+ youth programme in her hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana.

Although Pence said he was “saddened” by her experiences and doesn’t think “anyone should ever be mistreated or harassed or discriminated against because of who they are or what they believe”, he went on to state: “The idea that we are telling young and impressionable kids … that little boys can become girls or little girls that they can become boys, I just think is wrong.”

If elected, Pence has promised a federal ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth, despite research consistently showing that appropriate healthcare significantly reduces mental health issues and suicidality among trans young people.

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