Trans teen has win in WA custody case against ‘abusive’ parents


supreme court of western australia transgender parents emotional verbal abuse custody family children's court
WA Supreme Court. Image: Kelly Underwood/Wikimedia Commons

The Western Australian parents of a transgender teenage boy have lost a legal appeal to regain custody of him after a court found they’d “verbally and emotionally” abused him over his gender identity.

The transgender male, given the pseudonym TM by the courts, first came to the Western Australian Department of Communities’ attention in 2019.

Warning: distressing content

At the time, TM was an inpatient at Perth’s Children Hospital because he was suicidal.

TM is a transgender male, and the Perth Children’s Hospital has formally diagnosed him with gender dysphoria.

While in the hospital, he disclosed to social workers he didn’t feel safe at home due to “verbal and emotional” abuse from his family.

The boy’s parents “did not and do not wish” to acknowledge his gender identity, the court found.

The court also heard that TM claimed his brother had physically abused him within the home.

The teenager was taken into care and in October 2020 the Department applied for a protection order against his parents. TM was over 16 at that time.

An earlier Perth magistrate granted the order after finding TM’s “suicidal ideation was to a great extent [a] result of the effect of… verbal and emotional abuse” within the home.

TM would “experience extreme distress and a recurrence or an increase in suicidal ideation” if he went back to his parent’s care, the court found.

Parents of transgender teen appealed protection order

TM’s parents later appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the order, denying they were abusive.

But on September 28, Western Australian Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Quinlan ruled against them.

Justice Quinlan upheld the original court’s decision, which found TM was at high risk of suicide if he returned to his parents’ care.

The original magistrate found his parents made “derogatory comments” towards him.

However the parents largely argued they believed the original judge was wrong and had misrepresented their “genuine and honestly‑held difference of beliefs” about their son’s identity as “emotional abuse”.

The parents also dismissed claims their son was suicidal.

In his ruling however, Justice Quinlan rejected those grounds of appeal.

“[The earlier magistrate] did not find that the appellants’ own beliefs or views constituted abuse,” Justice Quinlan said.

“It was, rather, the words that they used and their conduct which formed the basis of her Honour’s findings.”

Additionally, Justice Quinlan stressed the earlier judge did not find the parents “intended to cause any harm to TM.”

“On the contrary, [the judge] was at pains to stress that the appellants love TM and want to do what they genuinely believe is best for their child,” he said.

Around the time the protection order was issued, TM was receiving treatment in hospital “as a consequence of distress and suicidal ideation.”

A psychiatrist’s report at that time found he was “at a high risk of completed suicide” within his parent’s care.

The earlier court heard expert witnesses describe TM as “articulate” as well as “consistent, repeated and credible”.

Judge says TMs best interests are ‘paramount consideration’

Justice Quinlan stressed the Supreme Court case was not a “general inquiry” into gender dysphoria or any particular medical treatment for TM.

Instead it was, the judge explained, about TM’s distress and “reducing the real risk and likelihood of harm by reducing and minimising his risk of suicide.”

“The best interests of TM were, as a matter of law, the paramount consideration. All other considerations were secondary,” he said.

If you need support, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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