Couple fights for son, 6, they say is girl at heart
Saturday, August 26, 2000

Encarnacion Pyle and Misti Crane
Dispatch Staff Reporters

Columbus, OH. August 25 - Born a boy, but living as a girl. Could the choice
cost a local couple custody of their child? Sherry and Paul Lipscomb had
their child forcibly taken away by Franklin County Children's Services.

A Westerville couple is fighting to regain custody of their 6-year-old boy,
whom they said was taken by social workers because they let the child dress
and act like he's a girl.

The couple lost temporary custody of the child Wednesday, less than two
weeks after trying to enroll him in first grade at McVay Elementary School
as a girl. The child attended the school last year as a boy.

They said Franklin County Children Services is violating their civil rights
by not allowing them to do what's best for their child. A gender- identity
disorder was diagnosed in the child.

The disorder is recognized by the medical community. It can show up in the
toddler stage when children begin to identify themselves as either male or

Children Services officials declined to comment on whether they think the
child should be raised as a boy or girl. They said they just want to make
sure the child is getting proper care and protection from his parents.

The couple said their child was born with male genitalia but has been
adamant about being a girl since turning 2.

"She's your typical little girl who likes dressing up in frilly gowns,
earrings and pretty shoes and playing with Barbie dolls,'' her mother said
yesterday. "She's always gravitated to all things girls and, until recently,
we had no idea why.''

The child was diagnosed with gender- identity disorder in November after
being hospitalized at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center for trying to
hurt himself and others during an emotional outburst, said the couple's
attorney, Randi Barnabee.

Barnabee said the child has been in and out of various Ohio hospitals and
treatment centers since age 3 for uncontrollable behavior, which she said is
linked to the child's gender-identity disorder. The child also suffers from
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Asperger syndrome, which is
related to autism, as well as violent, obsessive behavior.

"The more pressure brought onto the child to conform to acceptable social
gender standards, the more she acted out,'' said Barnabee, a transsexual who
has a law office in the Cleveland area.

While it took the couple a little time to adjust to the diagnosis,
gender-identity disorder provided them with answers -- and much-needed
relief, Barnabee said.

"It all became so clear,'' the attorney said. "It wasn't a matter of this
child, who is so young, innocent and barely able to choose what she wants
for dinner, choosing to be a girl. She's just manifesting her personality.''

Most people have a very clear-cut sense of gender from an early age, said
Dr. Herman Tolbert, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Ohio
State University School of Medicine. As toddlers, individuals identify a
gender and then spend the remaining years being socialized to fit societal
expectations that go along with it, Tolbert said.

The disorder can be strictly psychological or have a mixture of
psychological and physiological causes, such as ambiguous genitalia.
Regardless of how the disorder shows up in a child, Tolbert said it is
important to seek help and get a psychiatric evaluation.

"There's no single answer that applies to everybody,'' he said.

Children Services received a call Aug. 11 from someone concerned about the
child and social workers decided to seek an emergency order for custody from
a Franklin County judge not long after, said John Saros, the agency's
executive director.

Although he refused to list the caller's concerns, court documents reveal
that school employees and Children Services officials questioned the
gender-identity diagnosis, as well as the parents' influence on the child's

In their complaint, Children Services officials noted that they first became
aware of the couple in February when they turned to the agency because of
"severe mental-health issues.''

"Parents were currently separated and had a history of mental-health issues.
Mother was diagnosed as bipolar and father may also have mental-health
issues. Child was alleged to be exhibiting out-of-control violent
behavior,'' according to notes contained in the complaint.

"Parents did not appear to be able to recognize that some of the child's
behavior may be attributed to the home environment.''

Barnabee said her clients have reconciled and that their marital problems
stemmed from not knowing how to help their child.

"They've been at their wits' end for years, moving from one crisis to
another -- all the while just trying to do what's best for their child,''
she said.

The mother indicated in a kindergarten survey that her child liked to draw
and design clothing, as well as play with cars, Legos and toys, which is not
atypical of boys and girls, Children Services officials noted.

Now, they said, she told them the child wants to wear jewelry and girl's

Barnabee contends that the child was placed in the temporary custody of a
foster family not to protect to the child, but society.

"No one wants this child to be who she is -- a girl. It's too much of a
political hot potato,'' she said.

The parents said they plan to file a federal sex-discrimination lawsuit
against the Westerville school district and Children Service.

The couple, who is Jewish, said Children Services has refused to allow their
child to wear dresses and jewelry while in foster care or to maintain a
kosher diet. They also alleged that the agency would not let the child
observe the Sabbath with the family at home and has not refilled the child's
lithium prescription for bipolar disorder.

"We have no idea what they are doing to her. She's not getting her
medication. She's very, very fragile,'' the mother said. "She's never even
had an outside baby sitter -- not even family. She can't be fine. She's
petrified. I know it.''

Her father is worried that the foster family is trying to make his child
conform to "being a boy.''

"It will depress her, and who knows what will happen,'' he said.

Saros said the child is doing well and has been appointed an independent
guardian who will act on the child's best interests.

"As in any investigation, interviews with the parents and child are
required; and relevant, available documentation of the child's medical,
physical, psychological and social condition must be obtained and
reviewed,'' he said. "To date the parents in the case have not yet
participated in an interview, and have refused to sign a release so that
Children Services can review materials.''

A court hearing on Children Services' complaint has been set for Sept. 12.

Barnabee predicted a "protracted and bitter'' fight.

"It's a tremendously tragic case over a socially unpopular disorder,'' she
said. "Years ago, in private schools kids were slapped for using their left
or 'wrong' hand. This is no different, just worse.''