When Kit Waits, who was gendered male at birth, first started to explore their gender identity at age 4, Kelsey and Chris Waits said they were determined to support their child wherever that journey took them.
Now, four years later, Kit is like any other 8-year-old. Swimming, playing with dolls and hanging out with friends after school are their favorite activities. By all accounts, Kit started school in the fall an outgoing, well-adjusted child.
But as the pandemic fueled contentious debates in the small city of Hastings, Minnesota, where Waits was serving as chair of the local school board, an angry parent attacked Waits where it would hurt the most; she outed Kit as transgender to others in a Facebook group. Another parent called for Waits to be "locked up" for child abuse for having supported her child's transition.
Waits said those parents had disagreed with her on positions she had taken on things like mask-wearing in school, and her efforts to make schools more inclusive for gender non-conforming children.
"Kit's identity has been politicized to an incredible degree and that's something we have to navigate every day," Waits said.
Where Kit had once managed the social dynamics of elementary school and after-school sports, suddenly Kit began to be misgendered, Waits said. Kit was also getting bullied at school over their gender identity, and criticized for participating on girls' athletic teams, Waits says.
"We don't get to just walk away from politics," said Waits. "This is my child's life."
Kit identifies as non-binary and transgender and goes by "they" and "she" pronouns.
Waits said her child prefers "they" pronouns, but goes by "she" pronouns in public since many people in the town have only known Kit as a feminine child.
They don't want to bring too much attention to themselves that way, Waits said.
At one low point, "Kit curled up in my lap and just started crying," Waits said a few weeks ago during a Zoom interview with ABC News. Kit asked their therapist, "'Why are people so evil? They're just doing this to people who aren't doing anything and just want to be left alone,'" Waits said.
Chris Waits, Kit's father added, "They don't want to be an 'other,' they just want to be Kit."
The Waits family declined to make Kit available for an interview, but Waits said Kit is aware that her parents are speaking out about her experience.
The effects of outing and misgendering trans youth
Kit's parents say even confident children like Kit can suffer under the scrutiny, discrimination and harm caused by anti-transgender sentiment.
"Every time Kit comes home and says 'I met a new friend,' I have to start wondering: who are this friend's parents," Kelsey said. "I have to constantly gauge where parents sit in their beliefs about LGBTQ people because I need to know that if Kit goes to their home and something happens, that Kit is safe, whether that's physical safety or emotional safety."
2021 intensified the spotlight being put on LGBTQ youths, since it was one of the most active years for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history, according to the HRC. And that sentiment festered in schools across the country, with the debate often heating up concerning the issue of trans participation in sports.
Outing and misgendering are two common ways that LGBTQ people are sometimes discriminated against, according to Juniperangelica Gia Loving, the associate director of Gender Justice Leadership Programs at the Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network. It can have long-lasting, damaging impacts on self-esteem, self-image, and mental health.
Outing is when someone's gender identity is revealed without their consent, which rids them of their autonomy, according to Loving.
"Without the consent of this child, you're putting them in the spotlight and making them a target and a topic that they didn't agree to," said A.T. Furuya, the senior youth programs manager for the LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN, who also goes by they/them pronouns.
They added, "That really takes away the young person's autonomy. It takes away their privacy, their protection, and it endangers them by signaling to other people [and other students ] that it's OK to attack."
Misgendering is when someone intentionally or unintentionally refers to a person using pronouns or language that doesn't align with or affirm their gender, according to Furuya.
"The impression this 8-year-old now has is: 'I live in a world where people do not accept me and where people feel they have the right to talk about my private life without my consent as a child,'" Furuya said.
They said this not only impacts Kit but also sends a message to their own children "that if you are different in any way, you can also be attacked just as I -- as your parent -- have attacked another child."
Loving told ABC News that exclusion, discrimination and bullying can affect children's mental health. Because of these factors and more, transgender youths are more likely to experience victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk compared to their cisgender peers, the CDC reports.
Supporting Kit's journey
Kelsey Waits, who did not win re-election to the school board in November, says Kit's school's faculty and staff have been supportive of Kit's journey.
Robert McDowell, the superintendent of Hastings Public Schools, told ABC News that the district will continue to address bullying in schools and support gender-diverse and queer students like Kit.
"Our teachers and counseling staff really work hard to put kids first and create situations where students not only feel safe but feel safe coming to the adults when they have concerns," McDowell said.
Despite this, the Waits family said they'll be moving to a new neighborhood and school in the district, and they are considering legal action against the parents who they say outed Kit.
To the parents and others who refuse to accept trans people, Kit's parents ask for understanding, compassion, and kindness.
"Just ask questions instead of assuming that you know everything about what someone else is going through," Chris Waits said.
"Approach it from a standpoint of wanting to learn and we'd be happy to talk to you for hours about what we've been through and how to support your kids or how to support my kids," he added.