Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on Thursday March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues. Credit: Stephen Groves / AP

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As we as a nation and state debate the rights of transgender Americans, particularly children, it can be easy to get caught up in the policy debate, to focus on the process of how legislation is written and passed. We know. We’ve fallen into that trap.

But, as a Missouri father so eloquently reminded us earlier this month, these debates and policies have very real impacts on real people, perhaps people we know and love.

“I’m a business lawyer, I’m a Christian, I’m the son of a Methodist minister,” Brandon Boulware said at the start of his testimony before the Missouri House of Representatives on March 3. “I’m a husband and I’m the father of four kids — two boys and two girls — including a wonderful and beautiful transgender daughter.”

Boulware was before lawmakers, on his daughter’s birthday, to testify against a bill that would require students to play sports on the team that reflects the sex on their birth certificates. Thirty-five similarly misguided bills have been introduced in 20 states, including Maine.

“I need you to understand that this language, if it becomes law, will have real effects on real people,” he said near the end of his three and a half minutes of testimony.

These real people — transgender Americans — are much more likely to experience family violence, harrassment, sexual assault, homelessness and poverty than other Americans. The situation is particularly dire for transgender teenagers.

Protecting their rights should be a priority. Instead, there are continued efforts to diminish them, thereby further marginalizing this already vulnerable population.

Too often, as Boulware explained, people simply don’t understand.

“One thing I often hear when transgender issues are discussed is, ‘I don’t get it — I don’t understand,’” he said. “I didn’t get it either. For years, I didn’t get it.”

Boulware explained how he refused to allow his child to wear “girl clothes” and to play with “girl toys.”

“My child was miserable. I cannot overstate that. She was absolutely miserable,” Boulware said. “Especially at school. No confidence, no friends, no laughter.

“I can honestly say this — I had a child who did not smile.”

Why, he asked out loud, did he do this, for years, even though it was against the advice of teachers, therapists and other experts?

“To protect my child,” Boulware explained. “I did not want my daughter or her siblings to get teased. And truth be told, I did it to protect myself as well. I wanted to avoid those inevitable questions as to why my child did not look and act like a boy.”

When Boulware realized he had taught his daughter that being good meant hiding her identity, he realized he was wrong.

“I was teaching her to deny who she is,” he said. “As a parent, the one thing we cannot do is silence our child’s spirit. … The moment we allowed my daughter to be who she is, to grow her hair, to wear the clothes she wanted to wear, she was a different child. It was immediate. It was a total transformation.”

“I now have a confident, a smiling, a happy daughter” who is a member of the girls dance squad and volleyball and tennis teams, he said.

Now, with the Missouri legislature considering a bill to ban transgender girls like Boulware’s daughter from the sports teams where they currently play, the 45-year-old father pleaded with lawmakers not to take away these important parts of her now happy life.

This bill, like the one in Maine — and the accompanying discussion of transgender Americans as people to be afraid of or as people who are seeking an unfair advantage — has very real negative effects on thousands of people like Boulware’s daughter. People who just want to have happy lives. People who shouldn’t have to live denying who they are.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...