As parents, we always hope our children will be happy and free to live their best lives.
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Like many, I am raising my children at this time of tremendous debate and upheaval. My youngest child, Ellie, 7, is an artist, a pun lover and a kind friend. She is also transgender. I worry about her every day. I worry about her even more because her basic civil protections in Massachusetts, where we live, are up for a vote on Election Day. And as this historic vote takes place, the Trump administration is attempting to undermine protections for transgender people at the federal level -- making statewide protections even more urgent and necessary.
As Ellie’s mother, I hope sharing our story will ensure a victory for the YES on 3 campaign in Massachusetts to keep her protections in place. This fight marks the first-ever U.S. vote on whether to uphold transgender rights statewide. Winning will send a message to my daughter -- and to the White House -- that transgender youth are welcome and valued in our country.
My husband and I were nervous when Ellie, who we thought was our son, told us she was a girl, announcing: "I'm a girl in my heart and my brain." She has consistently expressed herself as a girl from the age of four. We had a lot of questions at first. We did research and found support from experts to help us understand that this was a fundamental part of who our child is. Most importantly, we trusted our child.
The reality is Ellie expressed herself clearly about her gender identity from the moment she had the words. Now my husband and I do everything we can to support her. She chose her name Ellie, named after her favorite blanket, and we started to use female pronouns with her.
The name Ellie is derived from the Greek and Hebrew words for “light.” When she began living as girl, Ellie’s light shone; she became happier and more confident. She became herself.
It’s understandable that some adults have a tough time understanding transgender people. When my husband and I began having this conversation over three years ago, we thought about waiting before changing Ellie’s name and pronouns. We are so glad we didn't. Not only do we have the gift of time to see Ellie thrive, but there are consequences for transgender youth who don’t have support. Around 40 percent of transgender teens attempt suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That number is even higher for teens of color, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
My husband and I are committed to doing everything in our power so our children know they are loved. When we moved to Massachusetts, we did so with confidence. We had watched the state’s legislature update its laws to protect transgender people from discrimination, building on city ordinances which has been in place for over a decade.
Anti-transgender groups claim that basic protections for transgender people threaten women’s safety, many of their arguments centered on who can and can’t go into a bathroom. But the fact remains that criminals who harm others in restrooms will be arrested and prosecuted, and protecting transgender people doesn’t change that. Transgender nondiscrimination protections have been put in place in 19 states, and many law enforcement agencies and women’s organizations locally and nationally support transgender rights.
Transgender protections ensure Ellie can go to her favorite comic book store, see a movie, or play at the park without being told she isn’t welcome. It’s about fairness.
My husband and I are lucky to have support from friends, family and community. Yet, as we reach new stages in Ellie’s life, the potential for bullying, harassment, and even violence grows bigger.
We want her light to continue to shine, and in Massachusetts that means voting YES on Question 3. Elsewhere, that might mean learning about state policies and fighting against harmful actions from the Trump administration.
This tells Ellie and thousands like her: You are welcome, you have opportunity, and our hearts is big enough for you just as you are.
Isn't that what we want for all our children?
Vanessa Ford is a mother, wife and award-winning teacher. She lives with her family in the Greater Boston Area.