Harrison Tinsley’s son, Sawyer, will turn 4 in December. He likes to play hockey and football with his dad and also enjoys singing. According to his father, Sawyer is a happy little boy, but the child’s mother is attempting to raise him not as a boy, or as a girl, but nonbinary

Tinsley has seen photos of his son in dresses on social media, and Sawyer told his dad that when his mother took him to Disneyland, “she wouldn’t let him go on the rides unless he wore princess shoes.” 

Tinsley is concerned for his son’s well-being and is seeking full legal and physical custody of Sawyer, and arguing that his son should be treated as a male. 

Tinsley joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his fight for his son. 

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: Today, I am pleased to be joined by a California father, Harrison Tinsley. Harrison, thanks so much for being with us on the show today.

Harrison Tinsley: Thank you so much for having me.

Allen: You are in the middle of a custody battle for your son, Sawyer. He is 3 years old. I want you just to start by sharing a little bit about Sawyer. What does he like to do? What do you-all like doing together? What’s your relationship as father and son?

Tinsley: We’re super-duper close. I spend all my custody time with him every single second. He falls asleep on me always. We play all the sports, hockey and football and baseball, and we wrestle each other. He likes playing guitar and piano and singing songs with me. We go for bike rides and scooter rides, go to the park, we go swimming. We just kind of do all the most fun father-son activities I can think of. Go to the zoo, go on roller coasters.

Allen: It’s special to have that relationship. And I know you said before we started, he turns 4 in December. I want to dive into some of the details behind this custody battle. What exactly is going on here? Sawyer’s mother is your ex-girlfriend. You have partial custody right now of your son, but you’re seeking full custody in part because you say that Sawyer’s mom is seeking to raise him as nonbinary. Can you just explain what exactly is happening here? What is the situation?

Tinsley: Well, I have half custody. So I mean, me and his mom both have 50%. And his mom makes the claim that she is now nonbinary and that Sawyer is nonbinary or that she’s at least trying to raise him that way. Although, some of the things she does seem more girly to me than nonbinary.

Not that I admit that’s a real thing. I radically disagree that it is or it’s an appropriate thing, rather, for children. But I think putting them in dresses and princess shoes seems girly to me and not so much nonbinary, not so much neutral.

However, Sawyer knows he’s a boy, loves being a little boy. He’s adamant about it. If you give him a girly toy, he’ll yell and scream at you, “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy.” So thankfully he’s a strong-willed rebel like me, and that hasn’t been working and I’m extremely thankful for that.

And I always make sure to tell him the truth and I explain things to him, I answer his questions. He’s a very bright kid and I think that he’s just seeing the world as he sees it and he knows the difference between boys and girls, as he should. And I’m just really thankful that he knows that already.

Harrison Tinsley and his son Sawyer. (Photo: Courtesy of Harrison Tinsley)

Allen: Talk a little bit about some of the actions that Sawyer’s mom has taken. Has she attempted, that you’re aware of, to advocate for him to go on any medications, like any form of hormones or what have you seen that has concerned you as a father?

Tinsley: So, I don’t know what she does in her own time. I actually have a restraining order against her even. But I can tell you that what I’ve seen is from social media and it’s just things like her putting him in a dress or he told me a story that she took him to Disneyland and that she wouldn’t let him go on the rides unless he wore princess shoes. And he told me how he looked down. He looked ashamed. Said how he wanted to wear boy shoes. That made him sad.

Recently he told me just randomly—his friend Martha and her mom came to pick him up with me and we picked him up. We had the kids and then he told us a story to me and Martha’s mom, he said, “I wouldn’t go to bed. And my mommy said if I don’t go to sleep, she’s going to tell dad that I had makeup on.”

And so I was like, “Oh. OK, buddy, what do you mean? Did you have makeup on?” He said, “No, I didn’t have makeup on. And she just said she was going to tell you that to make me go to sleep.” And I just thought that was a really sad thing to hear.

I can tell you she uses “they” to refer to him a lot, which is weird because they is usually for multiple people and he’s a single person and I think it’s confusing to him. But generally speaking, he has it figured out and I’m just thankful that for right now I have half the time with him to make sure he knows the truth.

Allen: This is a custody battle, you’re in and out of courtrooms. You’ve been in and out of courtrooms for years. How old was Sawyer when you actually got to first meet him?

Tinsley: So, it took far too long. It was a travesty and a heartbreak that I can’t even describe because me and his mom were together when she was pregnant. We were both super-duper excited about it, in spite of any differences we had. His mom has wonderful qualities. She’s a human being. I think the line between good and evil cuts in every single person’s heart.

And it was really tragic, but I didn’t know when he was born. I found out about one week after and I filed in court two months later and it took 13 more months just to meet him. So I finally met him when he was 15 months old. And I’m not a victim. I like to think that maybe I needed to go through that challenge and trials to become a stronger man for him and to have a voice to speak up for the defenseless and the children. And I’m doing that now.

And I can tell you, when I met him, it was just miracle frequency everywhere and it was amazing. And we both bonded and I pressed on through even though it wasn’t as fun and happy as it sounded because at first my visits had to be supervised, not professionally, but by her parents or friends. And that made it very uncomfortable. They were having someone watch our every move.

We caught her dad in bushes one time watching us. My sister did. She took pictures even of it. Just really weird stuff. I found a camera one time recording us—or I don’t know for sure that it was recording, but that was my assumption.

And I fought through all of that. I spent my time with him. I never missed anything. I’ve never been late to anything. And I eventually got more and more visits and I moved to the Bay Area where I was pretty quickly awarded half custody, which I’m extremely thankful for.

Allen: Now, you’ve also, in addition to raising concerns over the fact that Sawyer’s mom seems to be attempting to raise him as nonbinary, you’ve also expressed some concerns over his safety. Why is that?

Tinsley: To the best of my knowledge, his mom suffers from some pretty serious mental illness problems, unfortunately. I think that’s really sad and I hope to God that she can get better. I want what’s best for Sawyer and having a good mom is that. But to the best of my knowledge, she has something called borderline personality disorder, which is pretty serious and really gives people highs and lows that are pretty extreme.

And there’s been some incidents. She was arrested for child endangerment once and placed on a 5150 hold. Those charges … ended up not getting prosecuted. But it was still a lot of evidence and a really scary night that I saw that I presented to the family court.

There’s just general suicidal ideations and a history of 5150s and voluntary psychiatric commitments and different things and some alcohol problems and things like that that just make me concerned for his safety.

And he spends a lot of his custody time with her parents it seems, as opposed to her, which is a weird thing to deal with because at one point, I think, OK, well, at least he’s safe for sure or more likely to be safe when they’re involved. But it’s also like, why are they raising Sawyer and not me or his mom? So it’s an interesting dichotomy, but I just pray that he stays safe.

Allen: And you’ve also raised concerns about Sawyer’s pediatrician, correct? That came up in court.

Tinsley: Sawyer’s pediatrician is a doctor who thinks it’s OK to treat kids as nonbinary. She was a witness for the mom in our trial. She said that, which the court took seriously.

She as well said that the mom—she didn’t know the actual knowledge of this, but she said that when my son was born, the mom had made a claim that she had a restraining order against me, I guess in case I found out or something, which that was not true. So that’s a pretty serious thing to lie about.

And she said that her clinic transitions kids as young as 12 or 13 and that a place down the street does it to kids as young as 5 or 6. And I have that all on transcript, but just some really interesting stuff.

It seemed that she acknowledged, essentially, that the mom had defamed me pretty heinously to this doctor. She wouldn’t give us specifics or my attorney on the cross exam, but he got her to admit that there was negative things said about me often.

Allen: Harrison, how have you held up through this whole court fight?

Tinsley: It’s been almost four years, but it’s hard sometimes. But I just do what I can to be the best version of myself I can be and be as strong as I can be. And I accept the responsibility. I look the evil right in the eye and say, “This is life. This is what I have to do.” I have a duty to Sawyer. I have a duty to children everywhere to stand up to this and to fight for what’s right.

And I know that I’ll be able to sleep at night because I choose to do the right thing. No matter how hard it is, no matter how much pain it causes me, I’m never backing down. I don’t care. I’ve accepted life for what it is and what I have to do. And I just look at it with that attitude that I have a responsibility to do it and I’m going to do it regardless.

Allen: Where does that conviction come for you?

Tinsley: All my life I’ve always, regardless of how terrified or scared I am of things, the one thing I’m most proud of about myself is that I’ve always been brave. Whether it’s singing in front of people or doing a back flip on my snowboard, I’ve always been able to find courage to do things in life. And I think that’s a big part of it.

Music affects me incredibly. I mean, I get chills when I listen to music. I love music so much. It makes me feel inspired. I listen to some Jordan Peterson or different stoics that just give me wisdom to guide me through this and the Bible, and there’s just all these different things that help inspire me.

And at some point in your life, you just have to make a choice: Who do you want to be? Do you want to be strong or do you want to be weak? And I just choose to be strong.

Allen: Harrison, where does the court battle stand right now?

Tinsley: In the process of appeal right now. The intro brief for it, I’m not familiar with appeals, apparently they can take a while, but I feel really confident about some of the things were appealing that I felt violated case law and different things during the trial.

Allen: And what are you asking the court for?

Tinsley: I believe I’m asking the court to get rid of the order that was made and I’m asking for full legal and physical custody and that Sawyer should be treated as a male. I’m asking for a restraining order, although I have one from a different court. It’s a whole other thing that I’m not going to get into. And I believe just being able to change the doctor because the court ordered that he has to continue to see that doctor for some reason.

Allen: How much is this legal battle costing you financially?

Tinsley: All the money I’ve ever made in my life, all the money my parents would ever help me with in my life. And that’s just so far.

And I’ve also been fortunate enough to have three free attorneys during this four-year span, let’s call it. And if I didn’t have three free attorneys as well, I’m thankful to all of them, I’d have negative money. They’re really expensive. I think it’s really unfortunate. They’re extremely great at their job and they’re really smart, and I know they go to a lot of school and they do a lot of work, but I do think that the amount of money they receive sometimes seems a little bit over the top to me.

Allen: I think those in the transgender community might hear your story and say, “Well, Sawyer should be able to choose whether he wants to be a boy or a girl.” What’s your response to that?

Tinsley: My response is that’s a false premise that I don’t grant, but let’s grant it for the hypothetical. Sawyer adamantly says he is a boy. Anyone can ask him. He’ll tell you that right to your face over and over again. He loves being a little boy, and I think it’s so sad that anyone would want to take that from him or not have him be happy with who he truly is because that’s something you can never change.

I can tell you I’m actually friends and I work and do rallies with Gays Against Groomers, and I know literally transgender people who are totally on my side with this and think that this is absolute madness that people are doing this to kids and confusing them.

Allen: Harrison, those who hear your story, who want to support you, what you’re doing, what would you say to them? What do you need?

Tinsley: I appreciate everyone who supports me in any way, shape, or form. Every single message, I try to read all of them and I try to read all the comments and every prayer anyone ever sends me, it all means the world to me.

If anyone wants to help me financially, they can. You absolutely do not have to though. And I’m so thankful to everyone who does. I have a GiveSendGo, Saving Sawyer, for anyone wants to help me with legal fees in this battle.

But honestly, just knowing that people believe in me and want what’s best for my son gives me—to answer your question earlier—a little bit more strength. Seeing how many people have reached out to me now and just said the kindest things to me and most supportive things, I’m not going to let any of them down and I’m not going to let Sawyer down either.

Allen: Does Sawyer understand what’s happening? Is he aware of the legal fight?

Tinsley: I don’t talk about that to him. I’d never say anything bad about his mom to him. Only good things. I can’t say what she does specifically, no idea. He has said a few things before that make me think, maybe when she’s had a bad day, let’s call it, she’s mentioned some things. He said, “Mommy said dad is trying to take me away from her,” or something like that. So maybe it’s been mentioned to him.

But generally speaking, I always tell him nice things about his mom. I don’t say we’re in any sort of court battle. He’ll bring up something, like, he loves my motorcycle. I’ll be like, “Yeah, your mom used to ride on it with me. Yeah, I used to hold your mom all night, just like I hold you.” So I try to keep it really nice and positive for him.

Allen: Harrison, if we were speaking of hypotheticals, let’s fast-forward maybe 10 or 15 years. What do you want Sawyer to look back on, when he is old enough to realize some of these details, some of what happened? What is your hope that he’ll be able to say about you as his dad and how you handled this situation?

Tinsley: I hope that Sawyer will be able to look back and know that I did everything I could for him, specifically him, to fight for him, to give him the best life possible, to have him be happy with who he is, to know that I fought to make the future in this world the best place that I thought it could be for him and his future.

And I hope that he knows that I love him more than anything in the world. Because I do, my love for Sawyer transcends my love for music or sports or anything, a million times over. It’s inconceivable before you have a kid to even understand how much you could love them. And I hope that he has a good life of purpose and he becomes a strong man and I believe he will be, and he’s going to get through all of this and everything is going to work out.

Allen: It’s powerful to have that spirit of optimism. Harrison, thank you just for your time today. Thanks for your willingness to share your story. Again, tell us, for anyone who’s interested just in learning more about your story and supporting you, where can we go?

Tinsley: You can find me at Harrison Tinsley on all social medias pretty easily. I have a GiveSendGo, Saving Sawyer. And I want everybody at home to be brave. Start speaking the truth. I really believe we can make a difference. [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom just vetoed 957. I know different people have different opinions about why and all that. The reality is, though, is we put enough pressure as parents that he felt he had to. One way or another, we can make a difference. We can create the future we want for our kids. We just have to have courage and speak the truth.

Allen: Harrison Tinsley, thank you again for your time today.

Tinsley: Thank you kindly.

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