Psychologist Dr. Harriette Wimms told attendees at a medical training summit in 2022 that parents who do not affirm their child’s gender identity have a “mental illness,” according to audio obtained exclusively by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The discussion took place at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s (WPATH) 27th annual training symposium in Montreal, Canada, on Sept. 17, 2022. Wimms, clinical director for The Village Family Support Center of Baltimore, suggested in a WPATH lecture on autism that parents who don’t affirm their children’s decisions are “transphobic” and have a “mental illness,” according to audio obtained in a public records request.
Wimms, alongside several other doctors, were discussing a case regarding a young adult referred to as “Silvian,” a biological female identifying as a man, who is also autistic and dependent on parents who would not affirm Silvian’s gender identity, according to the audio.
“Sylvian is a 22-year-old young man and uses he him pronouns,” the panel explained. “In terms of gender history, Sylvian was assigned female at birth, and first identified as a man at age 19. While in college, he remembers feeling uncomfortable living as a girl while in high school, but he didn’t say anything about it, because he didn’t know exactly what was going on for him.”
The panel goes on to say that Silvian’s parents, upon finding out about his transition, were upset “but assumed that this was a phase,” according to the audio. Wimms, however, had other thoughts about the parents’ beliefs.
“Here in the States, Janet Helms is a researcher who has explored racism for years and years and she says that racism and other isms are [a] mental illness and need to be addressed,” Wimms said. “And I think if I were working with this client I just might say ‘Okay, your parents, unfortunately, they are transphobic and I’m sorry and let’s figure out some ways to deal with their mental illness.'”
Wimms added that this could entail the patient having a “home life” as well as a “social life” where they could be themselves.
Other medical professionals at the WPATH summit also discussed working with parents who were reluctant to affirm a child’s transgender identity, with one doctor saying that it all comes down to “the messaging,” according to videos obtained exclusively by the DCNF.
Dr. Scott Leibowitz, a psychiatrist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio and a member of WPATH, responded to a question from an audience member about how to deal with parents who are against menstrual suppression, which is a medication that can be used to stop girls who identify as male from beginning their periods.
“So from my perspective, when I frame it next to hormones, usually they are like, ‘Okay let’s do menstrual suppression,” he explained as the audience laughed. “It’s all about the delivery and the messaging.”
A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in March 2023 noted that there is almost no data on “outcomes of different menstrual-management methods in gender-diverse patients, including continuation rates, bleeding patterns, and side effects.” The study claimed that, while it found positive results for transgender patients who used menstrual suppression medications, much more research was needed to determine the effect on “gender dysphoria and mental health outcomes.”
Dr. Wallace Wong, a psychologist who works with transgender children as young as two years old, was also on the panel with Leibowitz and said that he will remind hesitant parents that “inaction can sometimes be just as damaging as making the wrong decision.”
“I think it’s important to let them know if we do nothing, how would that affect the kid’s mental health?” Wong asked, “How will that worsen the kid’s gender dysphoria?”
“Sometimes that may shift their support on this,” he added.
In a previous DCNF investigation, Wong, who is listed as the co-lead for WPATH’s GEI Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement committee, explained to medical professionals in another training session that parents often have “irrational thinking” when their child claims to be transgender and that he tells parents that only children know their true selves. He also encouraged parents to talk about sex and gender identity with children as young as three years old.
Later on in the panel, an attendee asked how to talk to parents who claimed that their children didn’t struggle with feelings of gender dysphoria at a young age.
Wong said that young children know that they have these feelings. but lack the “language” to express them, while Leibowitz noted that he likes to take parents aside and ask them if they might have reinforced gender stereotypes on their child.
“I always, with the parents alone [and] never in front of the adolescent, ask them if their parenting reinforced stereotypes or not, and then I list what those stereotypes are and get a sense of, like, what the parents think of their parenting and the environment that the kid is in,” Leibowitz said.
Leibowitz also said in a separate WPATH lecture that parents will often think that their child may have autism instead of gender dysphoria, according to a video obtained by the DCNF. He says that if parents see doctors “address something else first,” like the autism concerns, then they will be far more likely to get a kid with “their gender care needs met” later on.
A spokesperson for Nationwide Children’s Hospital told the DCNF that Leibowitz “is not available” for comment.
WPATH’s Eight Standards of Care encourages doctors to get parents to affirm their child’s decisions, but also acknowledges that there are cases when parents are “too rejecting” of their child’s needs to be “part of the clinical evaluation process.”
“However, in some cases, parent(s)/ caregiver(s) may be too rejecting of their adolescent child and their child’s gender needs to be part of the clinical evaluation process. In these situations, youth may require the engagement of larger systems of advocacy and support to move forward with the necessary support and care,” the standards read.
Wong, Wimms, and WPATH did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.