SCOTUS Will Not Hear a Case From Parents Who Lost Custody of Their Trans Child

The Supreme Court announced on Monday it will not hear an appeal from two Indiana parents who lost custody of their transgender child in 2021 and believe that children should be raised according to their sex assigned at birth.

The case stretches back to 2019, when Mary and Jeremy Cox of Anderson, Indiana said their child — then 14 years old — came out to them as a trans girl. As PBS affiliate WFYI reported, the Coxes, both self-described devout Christians, refused to accept their child’s identity, a sustained conflict that lawyers for the Department of Child Services (DCS) say eventually led to the child developing a severe eating disorder and both parents losing custody in 2021.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in 2022 upheld the DCS decision to remove the child from her parents’ care, finding that her eating disorder was directly linked to emotional distress and lack of support at home. Mary Cox’s comments to her child included the statement that “[child’s preferred name] is the bitch that killed my son,” according to the ruling. The court determined that the custody order was necessary to protect the child’s physical and emotional health, and while the Coxes are free to express their religious beliefs, “they do not have the right to exercise them in a manner that causes physical or emotional harm to [their] Child.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court officially denied the Coxes’ petition to hear the case, allowing the 2022 Court of Appeals decision to stand. The Court did not issue any comment as to why the case was rejected. Them reached out to the Indiana Attorney General’s office for comment, but did not receive a reply prior to publication.

Recent studies indicate that rates of disordered eating are higher among trans men and women than cisgender people, and that trans youth around the ages of 18-22 are particularly vulnerable. As essayist Aerin Cho wrote for Them in 2021, eating disorders can feel like the only way to control one’s body, especially for young trans people whose parents reinforce feelings of shame and poor body image. Parental shaming and abuse has also been correlated with higher rates of such disorders, independently of trans identity.

The Coxes’ court failure comes after a bill based on those parental religious freedom arguments, for which the couple personally advocated, also failed to clear the state legislature last year. That bill, HB 1407, died in committee in 2023; it would have declared that Indiana parents have the right to “direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health” of their children without government interference.

The Supreme Court announcement also comes at the start of LGBTQ Health Awareness Week, organized annually by the National Coalition for LGBTQ Health, which lasts from March 18 to 22 this year. On Monday, the Court also declined to hear the appeal of Couy Griffin, co-founder of the right-wing activist group “Cowboys for Trump” who was removed from New Mexico public office after participating in the failed coup attempt on January 6, 2021.

Get the best of what’s queer. Sign up for Them’s weekly newsletter here.