Seated in the Milk River Valley is Glasgow, Montana, a city of just over 3,000 souls, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. Glasgow seems like the kind of place to which one might run amid our national unraveling, the long fever dream that is modern American life.
Yet even there, even in ruby-red Big Sky Country, the grasping hand of the zeitgeist has reach. The Kolstad family learned that lesson the hard way when the state took their daughter away.
Krista and Todd Kolstad told Reduxx, a feminist magazine, that Montana courts and social workers effectively abducted their teenage girl after she declared herself transgender. Reduxx changed the girl’s name to “Jennifer” in the story to preserve the child’s anonymity. According to Krista, Jennifer had been a victim of bullying at school.
Krista, who is Jennifer’s stepmother, also suspects Jennifer suffers from an undiagnosed mental health issue. The Montana Child and Family Services got involved when Jennifer expressed suicidal ideations at school. Things went downhill in a hurry from there.
Jennifer told CFS she had tried to kill herself by consuming a cocktail of toilet bowl cleaner and painkillers. Medical documents shared with Reduxx indicate that this was untrue. The paperwork also showed that Jennifer identified as a male and asked to be called “Leo” by hospital staff. When her parents objected to that request, the staff didn’t seem to care at all. They ignored virtually every request made by Krista and Todd. Meanwhile, a self-identified nonbinary aide assigned to Jennifer was overheard by Krista discussing “gender-affirming” surgeries. When Krista complained about that, finding it wildly inappropriate, a doctor scolded her.
“He told me, ‘Why are not you more concerned that your daughter is trying to harm herself, than what [the aide] is talking about?’” Krista said.
Medical transitioning for minors is prohibited in Montana. But that is a small obstacle with myriad workarounds. The Kolstads did not realize that the fate of their family was sealed the moment they admitted Jennifer into the care of the state. But what choice did they have? It seems the Kolstads thought that if they went along, like hostages, everything would work out for them in the end. They were wrong.
Against the Kolstads’ wishes, CFS moved Jennifer into residential care for treatment and counseling in the neighboring state of Wyoming. Unlike Montana, Wyoming has not outlawed transgender treatments for kids.
Social workers simply arrived at their home with police and notified them that Jennifer was to be surrendered because the Kolstads were supposedly “unable or refusing to provide medical care.” From then on, communication with Jennifer was dramatically limited and restricted by the state.
When Jennifer returned to Montana, a judge told the Kolstads that they may never get her back. Not as a girl, anyway.
“We were told that letting Jennifer transition and live as a boy was in her ‘therapeutic best interest’ and because we aren’t willing to follow that recommendation, the court gave CFS custody of Jennifer for six months,” Krista told Reduxx. “CFS is now going to place Jennifer in the care of her birth mother in Canada, who has never really been a part of her life. The judge said to us ‘you need to expect that reunification with your family may not be what you are expecting.’”
According to the Kolstads, Jennifer’s biological mother abandoned her shortly after she was born.
This story caused such a stir—because it is indeed horrific—that Montana Governor Greg Gianforte felt compelled to comment on it. You would be forgiven for expecting the Republican governor of a reliably red state to send in the cavalry.
Gianforte said his office reviewed the case and that Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras, “a constitutional conservative,” concluded all had occurred in accordance with “state policy.” The hospital and social workers and courts had done nothing wrong.
“To give them their best shot at reaching their full potential, children deserve to grow up in happy, healthy homes with loving families,” Gianforte wrote on social media. “Sadly, this ideal is not always realized.”
With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats? The latter abuse you while the former enable the abuse by saying it’s consistent with the laws of the land. They’re just doing their jobs—as did the guards in Stalin’s camps.
After Reduxx published the story, Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a trans-identified member of the Montana House of Representatives, said the Kolstads appeared to have “broken a gag order.” Cowboy State Daily, a Wyoming newspaper, reported that Krista and Todd said they were instructed to remove a YouTube video about their case, indicating that they indeed have been gagged.
“The system does not want it made public that it’s broken and continues to violate parents’ rights,” Krista wrote in a Facebook post.
In the March 2022 issue of Chronicles, I reported on a similar horror story, albeit one with a happier ending. A family in Texas found themselves in a harrowing situation when social workers were sent to their house responding to an anonymous tip, really an attempt to intimidate them. Their teenage daughter had been secretly encouraged to transition while at school.
Staff and faculty helped her live another life and hid it from her parents. She was encouraged to view her parents with suspicion and distrust. The girl became estranged from her family.
When mom and dad finally learned the truth, they yanked her out of the school district, a move that invited bogus accusations of abuse. The family told me at the time that they suspected someone at the school had tried to weaponize the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services against them.
When I last checked in with the Texas family, they told me they were still healing from that affair but that everything was on the upswing. For them, it was a miracle.
But for the Kolstads, it is an ongoing nightmare. Their story is also a reminder that there are no such things as red states or constitutional conservatives in matters determined by power. You either protect your family from the depredations of the times or you don’t. There is nowhere to run.