Abused Virginia Teen Gets a Second Chance at Justice While Democrats Block It

“Sage’s Law,” a bill now before the legislature in the state of Virginia, was first introduced in January 2023 as an attempt to address head-on the left’s plan to accuse non-affirming parents of gender-confused children of child abuse. The legislation states that, “in no event shall referring to and raising the child in a manner consistent with the child’s biological sex … be considered abuse or neglect.”

After failing to win approval last year, the bill was reintroduced in January and—given the Democratic majorities in both the Virginia House and Senate—predictably is now facing strong headwinds. At stake is not just the status of parental rights in the state of Virginia, but the well-being of vulnerable children who, because of leftist policies, have been subjected to all manner of abuse while in the custody of the state.

The legislation was inspired by the case of a Virginia high school student named Sage who, while in the custody of state authorities, was trafficked, abused, sexually molested, and exposed to harmful drugs. This abuse was disregarded, however, as the state accused the Virginia teen’s parents of abusing their daughter. Sage’s mother, Michele, and her husband were forced into a months-long legal battle with the state over their right to raise their own daughter, who briefly, due to social pressure at her high school, expressed a desire to live as a boy.

The saga began when Sage began voicing a desire to wear boy’s clothes at a public Virginia high school. Unbeknownst to her parents, public high school teachers began using male pronouns for Sage, referring to her as “Draco.” Without her parents’ knowledge, Sage used the male restrooms and locker rooms, into which boys followed and threatened her, at one point pining the terrified girl up against a bathroom wall. Her mother didn’t find out about her daughter’s abuse until Sage called her to pick her up early from school one day after one such abusive encounter. 

The troubled girl ran away from home that same night with a boy she had met online and was subsequently trafficked, first to Washington, D.C. and then to Baltimore, where she was brutalized, gang raped, and drugged, according to Sage’s mother. It took a week for authorities to find her. The next time her parents saw her was via a Zoom call from a prison cell, as they fought for custody of their girl. Sage’s father was removed from the courtroom for using Sage’s female pronouns, and her mother was scolded for saying Sage had endured “trauma.” For months, the state withheld custody of Sage from her parents, claiming the parents would abuse Sage in not “affirming” her male identity. Sage was then trafficked a second time after escaping from a shelter.

“They told me she might already be gone forever, but I couldn’t give up, and I finally found a tip on her social media that led the marshals to her in Texas,” Michele said in testimony before the Virginia legislature last year. “She had been drugged, raped, beaten, and exploited. This time I was able to be with her for the traumatic rape exam and bring her home.”

The left argues that parents who do not affirm underage children’s gender identity are abusing their children, citing studies they claim demonstrate that children will commit suicide if not allowed to identify with their preferred gender. A study published in the Journal for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, however, found that a majority of children with a transgender identity will desist if not given sex change interventions. A recently defeated bill that was proposed in Maine would have allowed state authorities to keep kids who cross the state’s border to obtain illegal sex changes away from their parents. Lawmakers there wanted to make it arrange things so Maine authorities could, under the bill, keep a child from his or her parents if, “the child is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment of abuse or because the child has been unable to obtain gender affirming healthcare.”

As Pedro Gonzalez wrote in this space last week, parents in Montana recently lost custody of their teenaged daughter after she expressed suicidal ideation over similar issues. Montana state officials called her by her desired male pronouns as she was kept from her parents, who expressed concern that their daughter had mentioned wanting to go on hormones and get a mastectomy. Eventually, their child was sent to Canada to live with the girl’s biological mother, who had not previously been involved in the child’s upbringing.

In an interview, Sage’s mother detailed the hypocrisy of the Democrats and activists working against this legislation.  

“Sage’s experience was anything but hypothetical, but the speakers opposing the bill wanted to pretend that it was an exception,” Michele, Sage’s mother said in a Feb. 2 email ., “In fact, keeping parents in the dark opens the door to predators and creates a market for traffickers. Traffickers look for kids isolated from those who will protect them.”

Democrats blocked the bill last year in the state Senate’s Education and Health Committee, arguing that the bill would “forcibly out” kids to abusive parents, who would allegedly have the kids, “kicked out of their homes, and … beaten.”

“Taking a child from a family during a period of confusion only makes it worse and can lock in mental health issues,” Michele said. “For Sage, this determination by court and school officials to call misgendering abuse made officials blind to what she really needed, and their terrible decisions almost led to her death. 

The bill has been reintroduced in the Virginia legislature as of Jan. 16, and is facing even worse odds now. 

“Humanly speaking, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get any Democratic support, but we’d like to make it as uncomfortable as possible for them to explain why they voted against it,” Laura Hanford, a parental rights activist advocating for the bill, said in a phone interview on Jan. 30, “And it’s not a great look in an election year for Democrats to consistently vote against parents because we know that the polling is also against them on that.”

In addition to clarifying the legal definition of child abuse, the bill requires that parents be notified of a child’s desire to be referred to as the opposite sex by name or pronoun and prohibits school officials from offering counseling without at least one parent’s consent. 

“I just testified before the subcommittee, and several trans witnesses argued against the bill, yet they themselves had been supported by families when they ‘came out’,” Michele said. “There were parents of trans-identifying kids who spoke against the bill, but their own experience of being in the know about their kids actually illustrated what the bill is trying to do—give parents the information they need to help their children.” 

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