Grant to examine rights of transgender children

April 08, 2019

A new grant awarded to Professor Claire Houston will help inform family law cases involving transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) children. Houston has received a $6,800 Western University Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Explore Grant for her project, “Respecting and Protecting Trans and Gender Non-conforming Children.”

Claire Houston“With more children and young people identifying as transgender or expressing GNC behaviour, family courts are now being asked to resolve family conflicts stemming from this gender variance,” says Houston, an Assistant Professor at Western Law who specializes in the area of state regulation of the family.

“However, because these cases are new, family court judges have limited guidance for resolving these disputes,” she says.

Houston’s research will focus on how Canadian family court judges decide cases involving conflicts over a child’s trans identity or GNC behaviour, and what factors should guide family court judges deciding these cases.

Drawing from children’s rights and anti-discrimination theoretical frameworks, her project will provide legal decision-makers with a principled approach for deciding these cases.

Houston says conflicts can evolve centering on whether and how a child should be able to transition to a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth.

“These conflicts typically pit one parent against the other or, sometimes, both parents against the child,” she says.

Houston notes family law cases involving children are generally decided according to the “best interests of the child” standard, but determining what is in the best interests of a particular trans or GNC child may be challenging.

“The views and preferences of children who wish to socially or physically transition (using medical procedures) deserve respect,” she says. “On the other hand, parents have legal rights over children, and parents and the state are legally obligated to protect children from harm.”

Dean Erika Chamberlain praised Houston for undertaking this timely, important research. “This is uncharted territory for Canada’s family courts, and Professor Houston’s work will provide valuable guidance on these issues.”