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An Interview with Mandy Giles

The Parents of Trans Youth founder offers support to families in need.

Mandy Giles (photo by Neil Giles)

What is your relationship to the LGBTQ community?
I have two transgender children.

Tell me about your journey to founding Parents of Trans Youth.
Almost two years ago, I quit my job as a nonprofit fundraiser to become an advocate for transgender youth. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, but I knew that I wanted to help other parents of trans youth and spread more awareness about supporting trans kids, both in the home and out in the world. Then the pandemic happened, and I had a lot of time to think about how I wanted Parents of Trans Youth to serve other people. During the Texas Legislative Session in 2021, I ended up spending a lot of time in Austin fighting anti-trans bills. I testified in front of Senate and House committees opposing those bills, and I did a lot of speaking at press conferences, panels, town halls, rallies, and media interviews. That experience made me realize that parents not only love and support their trans kids, but they have to fight for their kids’ rights. I’ve incorporated that into my messaging and my content. 

What services or resources does your organization provide? 
Right now, I offer presentations to parent groups. As the parent of trans kids who is not personally a part of the trans community, I know that my lane is speaking to other parents. A lot of cisgender people don’t know much about gender diversity or the difference between gender and sexuality, so I provide them with basic gender education. I also explain the big why’s and how’s of supporting trans kids, and I offer individualized direct support for parents of trans kids who might need a little bit of extra help. I’m not a mental-health professional, I’m not a medical professional, so I can only offer them peer-to-peer support. Sometimes parents find that really helpful. I’ve also posted a lot of educational content around gender-diversity issues on my social media, where I also amplify the voices of both trans people and other advocacy and civil-rights organizations like the Transgender Education Network of Texas, ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal, and Equality Texas.

You’re the president of PFLAG Houston, another organization that supports LGBTQ youth and their families. Tell me about your role with that group.
PFLAG was a huge support to me when my kids came out, so it’s important to me to give back to the organization and help other parents. In our support groups, we share our stories—the good and the difficult—to help other parents know they’re not alone. I also really enjoy connecting with other local LGBTQ organizations and advocates for our monthly educational presentations.

What advice can you offer to a parent who might still be struggling to understand and support their trans or gender-diverse child?
You don’t have to understand everything to be supportive. As a cisgender straight person, I will never understand what it is like to be a transgender or gender-diverse person. But I can still support my kids by listening to them and giving them what they need. Also, let your child lead the way. Some parents might not be understanding, or they might struggle with the news. Others might be very supportive and get wrapped up in trying to figure it all out on the first day. A lot of the time, if they just listen, their kids will tell them exactly what they need. That could be a new haircut or clothes as a part of a social transition, wanting to go by a different name or pronouns, or maybe they’re ready to start a medical transition like puberty blockers or hormone therapy. As a parent, it’s a privilege to be alongside your child’s journey, and it’s also important to remember that we can only be alongside them and not in front. 

What kept you motivated throughout the grueling 10 months you spent fighting anti-trans bills at the Capitol?
Community. That was something I was not expecting. This was my first foray into advocacy. I was not expecting the love, support, and camaraderie I received from the other people who were fighting the bills. I met some incredible transgender people who fight for their lives every day, and who still chose to go to the Capitol to tell their life stories over and over to people who didn’t deserve the honor of hearing those intimate details. I was able to bond with other parents of trans kids who were fighting for their children. I always say going to the Capitol is kind of like going to a funeral. You hate the reason that you’re there, but you’re really happy to see the people that showed up.

Trans kids’ access to gender-affirming health care is once again under attack. How does this make you feel as the parent of trans children?
It’s disheartening. It’s so hard for me to understand why our State leaders keep going after transgender kids just to get votes. To use children in that way is deplorable. It makes me sick to my stomach. The confusion and fear is palpable among families with trans kids. My kids are over 18 and I don’t even know if we’re safe, because I know other families with kids over 18 who are being investigated by CPS. Our family has been very public in speaking out, and we’re taking measures to ensure our safety. We’re terrified, but we’re not going to stop fighting. 

Are there any words of encouragement you can offer to families who are fearful right now? 
To trans kids, I will say that you are loved and deserve the health care that you need. Sometimes that’s hard to recognize and remember when politicians are telling trans kids that they don’t matter, but they are worth fighting for. To parents, I say keep on loving and affirming your children. 

It’s clearly been a very difficult year for Texas trans youth and their loved ones. How do you and your family unwind when you need a break?
We watch movies together. My kids get a lot of solace and life from their friend groups. In their college communities, they each have a good group of LGBTQ friends who understand what they’re going through, to a certain extent, and they’re very supportive. I think that’s really helpful. It fills me up to be with other parents of trans kids, getting together in relaxing settings to process our feelings. 

What else do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy baking. My husband and I made chocolate-chip cookies together for a PFLAG meeting the other day, which was really fun. I also have recently rediscovered my love and interest in hand embroidery. Many years ago, I used to have a little business for hand embroidery. It’s really soothing and fun to get my creativity out. 

Where are some of your favorite spots around town that are LGBTQ- and family-friendly? 
The Common Bond On-The-Go Garden Oaks location, which is just around the corner from our house. One of my kids worked there last summer, and it was a very affirming experience for them. Their pronouns were respected and there were other LGBTQ and gender-diverse people who were working there. It’s currently my favorite coffee shop and my quiet place to work when I need to get out of the house. 

Is there anything exciting you’re working on that our readers should know about?
I have a million ideas, and I’m trying to think about how best to structure them and make them accessible to people. I’m really interested in amplifying transgender voices. Maybe that means a podcast or interviews on social media. I’m just always cognizant of my status and privilege as a cis-het person, and I don’t want my voice to be the only one that is speaking in the Parents of Trans Youth organization. I’m working to figure out the best way to do that, to make sure those other voices are honored and respected.

For more info, visit Keep up with the organization on Instagram @parentsoftransyouth and Facebook @parentsoftransyouth1.

This article appears in the April 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
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