In California, do parents lose custody if they fail to pay for their child’s gender reassignment?

False – the statement is untrue, there is no evidence to support it, the author is lying or unintentionally misleading 

In early August, Facebook users, including two members of the political party Latvia First (Latvija pirmajā vietā, LPV) , shared a video of blogger Edijs Gribusts where he was lying about the rights of transgender children in the US state of California. He said that parents can supposedly lose custody of their child if they do not pay for the child’s gender reassignment surgery. Gribusts’ claim is completely fabricated. 

Sex reassignment surgery includes, for example, breast removal or augmentation, genital surgery and facial plastic surgery. In California, sex reassignment surgery – like most medical treatments – is allowed without parental consent from the age of 18. The exceptions are certain health services related to infectious diseases and sexual violence, such as STD diagnosis and treatment. Only an emancipated minor, i.e. one who does not have parental care and is legally considered an adult, has the full right to make decisions on their healthcare in California.

But Gribusts’ video tells a different story:

“In California, they approved that children have the right to come home and say that they feel they are a different gender, and the parent has to pay for the surgery or they lose [custody] rights.”

Re:Check emailed the creator of the video to find out what law he was referring to in the video. In his reply, Gribusts sent a link to a YouTube video and to several articles – two from the US propaganda channel Fox News, one from the British tabloid Daily Mail and one from the website of the California television channel ABC7. None of these sources state that in California parents who refuse to pay for sex reassignment surgery can have their children taken away from them.

The articles in the newspaper refer to the pending bill AB-957, which would amend the California Family Law. The amendments concern Section 3011, which sets out the circumstances that a court would consider in assessing how to grant a parent custody and access rights to a child. This is relevant, for example, in divorce cases. Section 3011 identifies the child’s health, safety, well-being, parental habits and other circumstances as factors to be taken into account. The relevant amendments would also add to the best interests of the child whether the parent accepts the child’s gender identity or gender expression. However, this would be only one of many circumstances that the court would take into account.

The amendments do not clarify what exactly is meant by acceptance of gender identity or expression. “Affirmation involves a variety of activities and will be individual to each child, but in each case it must promote the overall health and well-being of the child,” the draft law reads. It does not say that children can undergo sex reassignment surgery without parental consent or that parents who oppose it can have their children taken away.

The video was shared on Facebook by several representatives of the Latvia First party, including MP Vilis Krištopans and Edmunds Zivtiņš. Their posts featuring the video have been shared by almost two and a half thousand Facebook users. Re:Check asked the LPV MPs whether they checked the information before they republished it. In his reply, Krištopans said to direct our questions to the creator of the video and to “study US law”, but Zivtiņš did not reply for six days, neither by email nor on Facebook.

It should be noted that sex reassignment surgery for minors is rare in the US. According to health insurance data compiled by the news agency Reuters, 282 teenagers aged 13-17 underwent breast removal surgery in 2021. That year, there were 10.5 million girls in that age group in the US, so one in 37.5 thousand adolescents born to girls in the country underwent this kind of surgery.

Despite the small number of cases, the opposition to transgender rights has become a popular way for conservative politicians in the US to mobilise their followers and gain public support. The rights of transgender patients are also restricted for political purposes, for example, in Russia, where they are presented as proof of the supposedly rotten moral values of the West.

Re:Check previously wrote about the impact of sex reassignment surgery and other types of therapy on the mental health of transgender people here.

Conclusion: The creator of a popular video misrepresents a proposed change in legislation in California, which addresses the circumstances that judges would take into account when deciding on custody and access rights. He is incorrect in stating that the amendments have already been adopted or that they are intended to remove child custody rights from parents who refuse to pay for gender reassignment surgery for their children. This misleading information was disseminated by members of the LPV party to several thousand social media users.

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