The following complaint was filed electronically to both the University of Florida and the University of Arizona after we received communication from a parent, who shared with us unprofessional communication (see below) that she received after articulating her personal concerns about the survey in an email to the principal investigator of the research study.
February 18, 2021
Dear Ms. Farley/Ms. Hammel,
Partners for Ethical Care would like to lodge a formal complaint regarding the study “Experiences of Parents and Caregivers of Transgender and Non-Binary Youth Study in the U.S.” co-sponsored by University of Florida. The study is authored by Drs. Russell B. Toomey and Robert Abreu of University of Arizona, whose office has also received this complaint. We have specific concerns about definitions assumed within the study, researcher bias, risks to human subjects, and methodological flaws.
The study seeks to determine the level of support that parents in general receive regarding their trans-identifying and/or dysphoric children. However, it does not define the very subject it seeks to understand–support. Instead, it begins with an assumption that all gender-affirming therapy (i.e., affirming the opposite sex as the child’s gender identity) and medical interventions provided to children, with or without parental consent, would be considered “support” of the child, and therapeutic to the struggle with dysphoria. However, support and affirmation are not synonymous. If the study seeks to understand to what extent our schools are affirming a child’s gender identity and directing kids toward a gender transition, that is a different question and should be phrased differently; “support” should be defined for the participant to increase the validity of the results.
Conflating support for children with gender affirmation not only lacks rigor but also confuses the participant by implying that there is only one way to support his or her child. In this way, the study is also administering family therapy (i.e. suggesting a specific therapeutic intervention for the child) to the participant without warning or consent, and with no evidence of its efficacy.
Scientific surveys from accredited academic institutions like yours should not be written with ideological language. Therefore, this document should use only scientific descriptions. Instead of using words like “gender identity” or “true gender,” use non-ideological terms like “gender dysphoria” or “a feeling of incongruence with one’s sex (or the sex-ed body).”
Moreover, the phrase “trans child” is poorly defined, especially in relation to the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which seems to be wholly unrelated to an identification as a “trans child” within the study. A clear definitional distinction between a child diagnosed with gender dysphoria and a trans-identified child is needed. The ideological language may inhibit respondents from answering according to their own experiences and beliefs. One parent participant reported that she felt like she was “committing a thought crime” while filling out the survey. For example, the phrase “trans child” assumes some sort of innate biological characteristic, and as such, using the phrase “transgender-identified child” is recommended.
In addition to conflating “support” with proactive affirmative interventions, this study formulation prevents the respondent from discussing the ways in which school interventions might be harmful or anti-therapeutic. As a result, the study only allows the answers to confirm the political biases toward an affirmation-only approach, lobbying efforts toward affirmation-only social and medical transition, and fundraising goals to support the mission of the study’s co-sponsor Human Rights Campaign and presumably the study authors.
That conflict is shown by the fact that respondents can only express 1) whether they need more active interventions to help their child transition, or 2) that they are well supported by the current interventions. There is no option for families to express their negative experiences with schools’ affirmative interventions on behalf of their kids. There is no way for parents to express the need for other types of support (i.e., exploratory therapy that does not include social or medical transition) for their children that might ease the feelings of dysphoria–or even resolve it altogether. There are no questions that address the needs of children who have desisted or detransitioned. There are no questions about desisted or detrans children who have been socially-influenced back into a trans identity by other trans-identified children or school personnel. There is no opportunity for parents to answer in a way that reflects the help they need, unless it adheres to the assumptions of HRC. The only options for these responses is through the comment boxes at the end, which will not be tallied and quantified in the same manner as the other questions.
Here are some examples of statements from parent participants:
Throughout the survey, as it asked for “very supportive” to “very unsupportive.” I wasn’t sure what to put. Like, I totally support my child, without fail. But I don’t believe in gender. I don’t support those ideas. And in reality I’ve only asked her questions. So I put “neutral” over and over.
The way they described surgeries and hormones like they were a default minimum of care was really shocking…, not one mention of watchful waiting. No mention of natural desistance. Not a hint of “identity exploration” or the general crises of adolescence. The writers are flying blind, in my opinion.
Additionally, some questions make assumptions that events have occurred when such cannot be assumed, and there is no ability for the participant to dispute the premise of the question. For example,