A transgender clinical psychologist joined the legal fight against a Maryland school district over its policy that permits teachers to hide a student’s gender identity from parents.
“It’s well established that one of the most important factors in helping gender-questioning children is family support,” Dr. Erica Anderson told reporters in a phone interview. “So to deliberately deprive a child of support at a time potentially when they most need it is, I think, a serious error in judgment.”
Anderson, who practices clinical psychology in Berkeley, California, with more than 40 years of experience, identifies as a transgender woman and served as a board member for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) from 2019 to 2021.
Last week, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed an amicus brief on Anderson’s behalf urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to reverse the Aug. 20 ruling of District Judge Paul W. Grimm, who dismissed a complaint from three anonymous parents against the Montgomery County Board of Education, which oversees Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Maryland’s wealthiest county.
The parents took the school district to court in 2020 over its student gender identity guidelines, which permit teachers to affirm students in the opposite sex and keep the child’s gender identity a secret from parents if the student requests it. They alleged the guidelines violated their state and constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment.
Frederick Claybrook Jr., an attorney representing the parents, advised them to appeal the decision, according to The Washington Post. “They are the ones that are to give guidance to their children and to help them through this very important step,” Claybrook said. “Not necessarily to the exclusion of schools, but schools can’t do that to the exclusion of parents, either.”
Anderson, who also served as the first transgender president of WPATH’s branch in the U.S. until resigning over disagreements in 2021, told reporters that MCPS’ gender policies and similar ones in school districts nationwide threaten to rip families apart and teach children that deceiving one’s parents is acceptable.
“As a psychologist who works with these kids and families, I have seen instances of family rupture when children don’t advise their parents of what’s going on with them, and then they proceed down a path that sometimes is interrupted only when parents are surprised to learn some of these things,” Anderson said.
“So on all accounts, I am opposed to schools depriving parents of the knowledge of what’s going on with their children,” Anderson added.
In the amicus brief, Anderson argued that a parent’s legal authority extends to how their child is addressed in school, and that social gender transition is “a major and potentially life-altering decision that requires parental involvement, for many reasons.”
Any claim that would seek to justify such policies as an attempt prevent potential parental abuse “flies directly in the face” of legal precedent that presumes parents act in their child’s best interests, Anderson further noted.
“It is never constitutionally permissible to usurp parental authority solely at the say-so of a minor, without requiring any evidence or allegation of harm, or providing any process or opportunity for the parents to respond or defend themselves,” Anderson wrote.
“At bottom, [MCPS] simply disagrees with parents who might say ‘no’ to an immediate transition,” Anderson concluded. “That is not sufficient to override their parental role.”
Anderson told reporters that any policy empowering a child to keep crucial information from family “is essentially teaching children deception.”
“I think that’s a terrible idea, just terrible,” Anderson said. “Where does it stop?”
Anderson pointed out that teachers are not entitled to hide bad grades from parents, which the psychologist noted are “temporary and far less consequential than gender questioning and a gender transition.”
Anderson believes Montgomery County’s gender guidelines exhibit a mentality that “constitutes such a sharp departure from well-trod paths, and it invites a very serious rupture between families and kids.”
Anderson, who penned an op-ed in The Washington Post last year that was critical of excessively hasty gender transitions for minors, has already taken flak from some in the transgender community and expects to take more because of the amicus brief.
“In some cases, [transgender people] believe that our job as a community is to protect the children from their parents,” said Anderson. “I think that’s very misguided. I think our job is to support kids to be supported by their families. Deceiving your parents is not a way to get their support.”
A spokesperson for MCPS did not respond to a request for comment.