A video posted on Facebook in 2016 begins with attorney Erick Kaardal taking a podium to the sound of camera shutters and the murmur of an unseen audience. He explains that the woman standing to his right – Annmarie Calgaro of St. Louis County – is a mother, and that her teenage child had received treatment to transition “from boy to girl,” all “without her consent.”
“I was not consulted or informed about this in any way,” Calgaro said when she got to the podium. “Why wasn’t I even notified?” She began to tear up. “I’m firmly committed to what’s best for my son. I’m his mother, and he has always been and always will be welcome in our home.”
She said she was taking action and filing the lawsuit so her parental rights could be restored – and for all parents and families facing similar “violations,” so that “they may be spared from the same tragic events.”
It’s worth noting that even though Calgaro referred to her child as “he” throughout the video, that’s not how she identifies. Her name has been omitted for legal reasons, but in court document and multiple NBC news reports, she goes by EJK.
Briefs filed by EJK’s attorneys say her home in Hibbing was an unstable one, and that both of her parents had been struggling with substance abuse. From a young age, she said, she’d been making her own meals, getting herself ready for school, and relying on a “network” of other adults for the rest of her care. At 13, the brief says, EJK came out as gay, and her mother and stepfather became “verbally and physically abusive.”
At age 15, Calgaro reportedly gave EJK permission to go live with her biological father, who was incarcerated soon afterward. The teen stayed with her grandmother and a series of friends before finally getting her own apartment. By that point, according to court documents, the Sauk Rapids High School student had lived apart from her mother for about six months, all while taking PSEO courses and holding down two jobs.
Court documents say that although Calgaro allegedly knew where EJK was, she hadn’t reported her as a runaway or attempted to bring her home -- that she’d “made it known” she no longer wanted to have any contact with her daughter at all.
“Given this set of circumstances, [EJK’s] parents, specifically [her] mother, have given up control and custody of their child,” the document says. (Calgaro refuted these claims and still does, accorrding to Kaardal.)
In Minnesota, minors living apart from their parents and supporting themselves are basically considered adults when it comes to their own health care. So, by the time EJK was 16, she was receiving government assistance, transitioning with the help of hormone treatments, and filing for a name change with St. Louis County District Court.
But by the time she was 17, Calgaro had filed a lawsuit challenging the law that allows minors to access medical care procedures without their parents’ consent. The Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm dedicated to “life, family, and religious liberty,” jumped in to represent her. Hence the press conference with Kaardal.
It’s not like winning the lawsuit would have given Calgaro parental control over EJK for long. By that point, her daughter was on the cusp of turning 18 and being a legal adult. But advocates on both sides saw the case as a precedent that could make gaining access to transgender health services easier or more difficult depending on how it went down.
It turns out, they were probably right. A Minnesota district court ruled in EJK’s favor, and so did an appeals court in March, but it’s not over yet. The Thomas More Society announced Wednesday (in a press release that used the phrase “illegal sex change nightmare” in the title) that it was taking the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” Kaardal said in a statement. “The United States Supreme Court now has the opportunity to untangle this untenable scenario; so, nationwide fit parents can keep parenting without governmental interference.”
Kaardal says he's feeleing pretty confident the Supreme Court will take him up on it.
"We think it's a very important case," he says.
We'll likely find out in the first week of October, when the judges return from summer recess.
When last NBC spoke with EJK, she’d received two acceptance letters from college nursing programs and was set to graduate from high school. Her health care providers, she said, had “no involvement” in her decision not to involve her mother in her decision to transition. She turned 18 in the summer of 2017.