Jeannette Cooper never imagined she’d lose custody of her only child.

A Chicago resident and lifelong educator who spent her entire adult life surrounded by children, Cooper considered herself a loving and responsible mother. After she and her husband divorced in 2015, she won custody of their daughter six days and seven nights a week. 

Cooper says the two shared a happy, healthy mother-daughter relationship, bonding over their love for board games and progressive politics. 

But on July 22, 2019, after a regular custodial visit to her father’s house, Cooper’s daughter, then 12, refused to come home. The next morning, she insisted not only that she was transgender, but that she felt “unsafe” around her mom. 

Cooper didn’t understand. Her daughter never before had exhibited signs of gender dysphoria. In fact, her daughter exhibited many more traditionally feminine behaviors and preferences than she herself ever did, Cooper says. 

What followed was an almost Kafkaesque series of court proceedings and therapy sessions in Cook County, Illinois, in which Cooper’s ex-husband, lawyers, therapists, and other individuals and institutions supposedly concerned with her daughter’s best interests worked to erode Cooper’s most basic parenting rights. 

Cooper, 44, shared her story with the Independent Women’s Forum as part of a new documentary series called “Identity Crisis.” The videos tell the stories of four mothers whose daughters fell prey to gender ideology, two detransitioners who now warn of the harms of socially and medically transitioning, and one mental health professional who rails against her profession for prioritizing political correctness over public health.

Since her daughter declared that she is transgender, Cooper says she has seen her for a total of only eight and a half hours. (She counts.) 

Cooper lives less than 10 minutes away from her ex-husband’s house, where her daughter now resides, but she isn’t allowed to visit. The only way Cooper can communicate with her daughter is by U.S. mail. 

All because she insists that her daughter is a girl.

“People who are imprisoned have more communication with their child than I do,” Cooper says. “That’s wrong.” 

Cooper packed photos and other items that reminded her of her previous life with her daughter into cardboard boxes. Looking at them became too hard. For three years, she didn’t talk about what happened. 

But finally ready to tell her story, Cooper is warning parents how gender ideology has become the latest weapon in parental custody battles, severing one of the most fundamental bonds in life under the guise of protecting children.

In America, cases in which  parents lose custody of their children due to a refusal to support a child’s desire to transition socially or medically may be rare. But the number of transgender-identifying youth has nearly doubled in recent years, leaving politicians, educators, medical professionals, and the public at odds over what policies are best suited to protect the health and well-being of children.

Cooper, a doctoral candidate in education at DePaul University, says she has trouble making sense of the allegation that her daughter is “unsafe” in her presence. But after her daughter made that claim, Cooper understood that the court needed to investigate. 

The seven-month investigation, conducted by a licensed clinical psychologist, required psychological testing, home visits, and hours of interviews with each parent. On the bright side, Cooper says, she believed it would clear her of any wrongdoing and reunite her with her daughter.

“After that report came out, I thought, surely, this is going to resolve itself. Clearly, there is no finding of abuse or neglect,” Cooper says. “But the thing that I clearly am not complying with is this concept that good parenting means that you affirm a child’s claim that there is something wrong with their body. I’m not willing to do that. I don’t think that’s good parenting.”

Cooper isn’t able to share the report’s findings, but publicly available court documents after the investigation make no mention of abuse or neglect. Instead, the documents cite Cooper’s need to “further [her] understanding of an[d] support of the minor child as relates to the minor child’s gender dysphoria.”

Cooper says she does have an understanding of the concept of a transgender identity. But it’s not the same understanding or concept that the court wants her to have. 

Last year, with her visitation rights still suspended, Cooper voluntarily entered into a new parenting agreement to avoid a prolonged hearing that she feared would cause more trauma and end with the same result. 

Under the terms of the final agreement, Cooper’s daughter is to remain in her father’s custody, with no visitation rights for Cooper without a court order or unless her ex-husband agrees. 

After consulting with a therapist and attending three support group sessions for parents or guardians of transgender-identifying children, the agreement allows Cooper to petition the court to see her daughter again. She attended those sessions last fall, the soonest she could enroll. 

But the specified therapist has no openings because her waitlist is full. 

Cooper has missed her daughter’s 13th, 14th, and 15th birthdays. As her 16th birthday approaches in August, Cooper found out that her daughter is learning how to drive. 

“I wish I could teach her,” Cooper says. “I think I’m kind of good at that.”

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