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One year ago, my family and I made national news after a group of parents outed my transgender child during my school board re-election campaign ("The high cost of hate in Hastings," editorial, Dec. 4, 2021). Their actions, as well as the actions (and inaction) of others, have had a large impact on our family.

We have moved and changed schools, and I have been diagnosed with PTSD. It has not been an easy year for us. And yet, the struggles that we have experienced are only a fraction of the struggles that many families with transgender children are facing every day across our country.

Right now, states such as Texas and Florida are seeking to criminalize critical, life-affirming care for trans and gender diverse youth, putting parents in unimaginable positions:

  • Do they support their child, remain in the state they live in and risk criminal prosecution?
  • Do they instead try to closet their child, dramatically increasing their child's risk of attempting suicide?
  • Or do they support their child and flee their state, leaving their current life behind in order to save their child's life?

Last fall, my family was able to move; my husband and I could remain at our jobs and the feeling of safety was not far away. This is not a privilege many others have, especially when the move involves a change of states.

Over the last year, I have heard from parents of transgender children across the country. Many have "go bags" — necessities to take with them if they need to quickly leave. Others have already begun moving across the country to states that will protect their children and ensure they are supported in their schools and can receive the affirming health care that is recommended by every major medical organization. They have left their jobs, homes, friends and families … all to protect their children.

Anti-trans laws have increased dramatically over the last few years. Whether or not these bills pass, their introduction and debate is not without consequences. The Trevor Project (the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people) has seen an increase in crisis contacts due to the barrage of anti-trans laws being brought forward; hateful rhetoric and violence against the LGBTQ community are also on the rise.

Even in Minnesota, the first state in the nation to protect transgender individuals against discrimination, my family and many others have experienced this hateful rhetoric firsthand. Transgender children are the most at-risk demographic in our schools for bullying, harassment and suicide; they are also disproportionately represented in the unhoused population due to family rejection.

The United States is currently facing a refugee crisis within our own borders as families with transgender loved ones flee their homes to find somewhere safer to live. In discussions about transgender kids, the phrase "let kids be kids" is frequently used; and when trans youth are given the space and support to be themselves — they thrive!

Last week, Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, introduced bills to the Minnesota Legislature that will protect individuals in our state and those traveling to Minnesota to receive lifesaving, gender-affirming care. This is a crucial step for our state to take to show our support for the transgender community and I urge both the House and Senate to pass these bills this session.

However, as laws seeking to ban lifesaving, gender-affirming care are introduced around the country, taking action now is incredibly important. For that reason, I also urge Gov. Tim Walz to protect this lifesaving care with an executive order prior to the passage of the bills in the Legislature.

As we seek to support our youth and create strong schools in our state, supporting trans friends and neighbors is imperative. Our elected officials, from the state Legislature to local school boards, must take the governor's lead and do their part to protect these children. Let's make sure trans youth and their families have the opportunity to live their fullest lives here in Minnesota. By creating communities that welcome and support the most marginalized, we create communities that can welcome and support all of us.

Kelsey Waits lives in Afton.