Cleveland Heights family with a transgender child faces an uncertain future in Ohio
The Burkle family’s home in Cleveland Heights is warmly lit, filled with the sounds of laughter and joy — a contrast to the grey winter weather outside. The family's two children laugh as they play video games and leaf through magazines with their parents, Alicia and Aaron.
However, that joy is mixed with a sense of dread about the future and what that future means for the Burkles' younger child, 10-year-old Astrid, who is transgender.
The Ohio Senate is expected to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of House Bill 68 this week, which would ban transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming medical treatments or playing on girls’ sports teams.
Astrid said she knew she was a girl very early in her life.
“That was right around when I could talk. I started voicing my feelings about who I was to my parents about preschool or pre-K," she said.
With her family’s support, she decided to socially transition when she was 8.
“When I did transition, I realized I needed this to live as a full person of who I am," Astrid said.
She added: “It makes me feel happy. I can't explain how happy I am to just be who I am."
Astrid and her family said their interactions with her classmates, school officials, neighbors and the community have been mostly positive.
Alicia, Astrid’s mom, said school officials in Cleveland Heights actively worked with the family to support her daughter.
“We put together a plan on what bathrooms Astrid would use, how could we communicate this transition and change to her classmates so that anybody who knew Astrid before, we could communicate that with them," Alicia said. The family also established the name and pronouns Astrid now uses.
Aaron Burkle, Astrid’s father, said the school system acts quickly whenever there are any problems.
“When there was any kind of negative talk or bullying language, the school administration, the teachers and staff really handled it swiftly and appropriately," he said.
Most of their neighbors have been accepting, too.
“Most of them are just like, 'Oh, OK, cool' or they might say, 'What does that mean?' or 'How did you know?' We're always willing to share our story, explain the process. Astrid is willing to tell them her story, just so they can understand better our journey," Alicia said.
An uncertain future in Ohio
Astrid said the support of her neighbors and school makes her feel accepted in her community.
“I just feel so happy that people are accepting where I am and who I am," she said.
Astrid knows not everyone feels the same — that they think she’s too young to express a gender other than the one she was assigned at birth. But she rejects what she views as their prying into a personal matter.
“Why is it anybody else's business? They should be worrying about other things. I'm just a kid going to the doctors. You don't need to worry about it," she said.
Astrid has not received any medical treatments related to her gender. Yet she and her family resent the idea that she will likely be unable to receive such treatments in Ohio should she seek them in the future.
Her sibling, Abs, who is 15, said legislation banning medical treatment is a tremendous concern, not only for Astrid, but the entire LGBTQ+ community.
She added lawmakers need to understand “the fear that they're striking into the hearts of young, queer people everywhere," and that the long-term impact of such legislation is frightening.
“I, myself, am queer," Abs said. "And it's more than just they're attacking young, transgender folk because then they're going to move to transgender adults, and then they're going to move to gay marriage, and they're going to continue to attack our community as a whole."
Alicia said if HB 68 becomes law, as is expected to happen, her family will be left with a terrible choice.
"We love our community," she said. "We love our school, we love our church. We love our family and friends that we have here, so we don't want to leave here. But that's not something we've taken off the table because there’s more legislation coming down the pipeline [that] could make it ultimately unsafe for Astrid to continue to live in the state.”
That’s the dilemma facing transgender children and their parents throughout the state, Alicia said. But in the meantime, Astrid said she’s going to continue to live the fulfilling life she and her family have created in the city and state they call home.
“Just because I'm transgender doesn't mean I'm not a normal person," she said. "There's lots of normal people who are transgender, and I'm just one of them.”