AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – An Auburn family is terrified health care options will be yanked for their daughter if lawmakers pass legislation described by republicans as a way to “protect and provide compassion for vulnerable children.” The family says HB 266 would do the exact opposite for their child who is transgender.
Harleigh Walker lives in Auburn with her close-knit family. She enjoys hanging out with friends, cooking, dressing up for dances, her cat, and making good grades at Auburn Junior High School.
“I love history. I want to go to law school,” said Walker.
At 14, Harleigh’s keen intelligence, and overwhelming compassion speak volumes about the journey she began at 11-years-old to transition with the support of her family and UAB health care team.
“It’s just who I am. The doctors, the people who do this every day and have their medical degree in it, have said this is perfectly normal, and we have kids come in here in your situation. So for me, it’s weird for politicians who are running for office who think they should determine my health care,” said Walker.
Now, the teen is fighting for her right to exist as a transgender youth in Alabama. Lawmakers are considering banning puberty blockers and other medications for trans minors. The bill would also provide for the disclosure of certain information concerning students to parents by schools.
“They are trying to come into my house and tell me how to provide medical care for my child. I don’t see it as anything different than a child with diabetes. It would be like if Alabama said you can’t get your insulin because we don’t feel like this is the best way to treat diabetes regardless of what the medical professionals say,” said Jeff Walker, Harleigh’s father.
Gender-affirming health care includes counseling, family sessions, regular checkups, and options with or without medication based on a child’s age and growth. There is no right way or wrong answer. The team focuses on helping the patient live as their most authentic, happy self. The Walker family says the UAB health care team provided education and stability as the family began to understand what their daughter was going through. Harleigh initiated a conversation after seeing a video on YouTube about transgender and feeling connected to it.
“Feeling feminine, but not knowing what to call it. I always changed my hair color or walked in the girl’s section and picked out a pretty blouse. So, when I learned what transgender was, it signified with me. I was shy, but then I blossomed and became me,” said Walker.
Walker’s parents contacted their Auburn pediatric doctor for guidance, who referred them to UAB’s Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, Associate Professor of Pediatrics.
“Gender diverse youth are diverse, creative, smart, and kind kids. They are also ordinary students, siblings, grandchildren, and people. Their parents, working to support and understand their now shared journey, deserve equal support, affirmation and safety. These families are your neighbors, congregants, and co-workers. Whether you know it or not. Yet they are in the center of a political wedge issue, fearing the evidence-based gender-affirming healthcare they have received nationwide for decades and truly deserve may be outlawed. Kids too young to fight back at the ballot box. Parents fearing relocation to a state that isn’t home. Were this bill to become law, an unprecedented level of legislative overreach into the domains of parenting and medical decision-making could become reality. As a pediatrician, I took an oath to serve my patients. This includes elevating their voices and walking a path where advocacy can become activism. We will see this through and hope for a day when bills built on pettiness take a back seat to those with substance.”Morissa Ladinsky, MD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics,
UAB Pediatrics Division of Academic General Pediatrics
However, some Alabama republicans call physician-based gender-affirming health care…..child abuse. Under the proposed law, violators face a felony and prison time.
“The politicians who say this is a very evil thing, I will tell you they have never spent time with a family with a trans child. We are just a normal, loving family. They have never sat down with the doctors who provide this care because they are the most loving and caring doctors out there,” said Walker.
Harleigh says being a girl was never a choice – it’s who she is. The journey has been the best of her life, but it’s not been easy.
“I would not choose to be worried about how politicians can affect my health care or choose my bathroom, or being bullied at school. This is who I am. I am proud of who I am. I am glad to share my story and worries with others and hopefully make a change,” said Harleigh.
In Harleigh’s mind, it’s child abuse not to have parents who listen and care for children who express a desire to be who they are inside. LGBTQ+ youth have higher rates of suicide compared to cisgender youth.
“To not take me to the doctor and let me express how I am, that would be abuse. So if this law passes, I will not have access to those medications, sending me into puberty. If I developed as male, that will mess with my mental health and send me to a very dark place,” said Walker.
Harleigh’s parents are terrified to lose her. So, they will move to another state that offers this type of medical care if the law passes in Alabama. However, if they are forced to move, their close family will be fractured. Harleigh’s 20-year-old brother is with the Alabama National Guard.
“My brother is in the national guard and has a commitment to staying in Alabama, so we will have to spit up as a family,” said Harleigh Walker.
The Walker family continues contacting Alabama lawmakers and visiting with them in Montgomery.
“Trying to win over their hearts and heads so they will not vote for anti-trans legislation. From what I’ve seen, Governor Kay Ivey is a compassionate individual, and I would ask if she does get this on her desk, that she veto it,” said Jeff Walker.
The family hopes if lawmakers can meet Harleigh and share just a few minutes with her discussing her journey, they will not enact laws that will keep her from being her true self.