Darrell Ehrlick

(Daily Montanan) A Glasgow couple would seem to be a perfectly made case for the controversial Senate Bill 99, passed by the Montana Legislature in 2023, which prohibited medical care for youth transitioning from one gender to another.

However, that couple now finds themselves looking at possible jail time, contempt, as well as losing a child to a parent in another country.

The couple, Todd Kolstad and Krista Cummins-Kolstad, filed an emergency appeal to the Montana Supreme Court on Monday morning, asking it to take control of the case, and stop — or vacate — a gag order imposed by Valley County District Court Judge Yvonne Laird after they criticized actions by the state health department.

The parents claim the State of Montana has unfairly taken their child, imposed a gag order without just cause, and violated their rights to make medical decisions for their child. They allege public officials, including Gov. Greg Gianforte himself, have taken to a public smear campaign online to discredit them.

They agree they’ve opposed efforts to allow their 14-year-old child to transition from female to male, but contrary to statements from the governor, they argue they have never stood in the way of getting psychiatric help for suicidal thoughts.

The case began in August 2023 when their child threatened suicide, then escalated when the couple refused to send her out of state for treatment, according to court records.

After a third party reported the case, the state’s Child Protective Services stepped in, received temporary custody, and sent the child to a facility in Wyoming, and later a youth group home in Billings.

Wanting their child back, the Kolstads took to Facebook in January to share their story, while criticizing the state. The Kolstads said on social media that while they support the need to get their child mental health resources, they don’t agree to let their daughter transition to a male. That drew a quick rebuke from Judge Laird, and the contempt order said that “further dissemination will result in contempt, which may result in jail and/or fine.”

Neither Gianforte’s office nor a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services were immediately available for comment when contacted on Monday morning. However, should those departments comment, the Daily Montanan will update this story.

The story has drawn attention both nationally and internationally, especially among conservative websites. The court appeal notes that a story by Canadian online magazine Reduxx about the situation has been viewed more than 1.4 million times during the past week.

For now, the 14-year-old, who identifies as a male, is in a group home in Montana, after completing an emergency stay in a Wyoming facility after expressing suicidal thoughts. The state has granted the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services a six-month custodial term for the youth, and has also approved a plan for him to live in Canada, with a birth parent.

Attorney Matthew Monforton represents the parents, Todd and his wife, Krista, who is the step-mother. The court brief, called a “petition for a writ of supervisory control,” is a rare motion that asks the Montana Supreme Court to take over the case and issue new decisions, including a request to stay — or set aside — the gag-order so the parents can respond and talk about the case.

Meanwhile, Laird has set a contempt hearing in her courtroom for Feb. 21, where Monforton says in the filing that his clients likely face jail time or other punishment for speaking publicly in opposition to the state’s actions, in violation of their First Amendment rights.

While the Kolstads admitted that the child needed mental health help, they objected to sending their child to the Wyoming facilities, fearing that the state did not have protections that would allow them to stop treatment aimed at his request to transition. The Kolstads told state officials that their child was at the top of the waiting list for a treatment facility in Billings, and wanted to wait until that spot opened up, instead of going to Wyoming.

The parents relied on Senate Bill 99, which was passed, signed into law, then enjoined by the state’s courts. SB 99 would have given protection to parents who didn’t want their child to transition, as well as outlaw medical treatment of transgender patients less than the age of 18.

The parents, according to the court filings, are conservative Christians who believe that transitioning to a different gender is a sin, and said they’re just exercising their rights as a parent to determine what’s best for their child.

According to the court documents, when the parents declined to send their child to Wyoming, “approximately 15 minutes after the call ended, a Child Protective Services agent and a police officer arrived at the parents’ home and seized their daughter. She was taken to the Wyoming facility the next day.”

The Kolstads say that kicked off a five-month fight that’s still ongoing while they’re trying to get their child back.

“A week later, Gov. Greg Gianforte, his communications director, and his allies in the press initiated a smear campaign against the parents. The parents have responded by speaking with the press,” the brief said.

In the brief, Monforton argues that the Kolstads are at a huge disadvantage because of the gag order: The governor and his staff have taken to social media, while they face possible jail time for responding.

Moreover, Monforton says the governor and state staff have smeared them, damaging their reputation, because the Kolstads say that their child was removed just because of suicidal thoughts, not for any other reason; however, social media posts, made by Gianforte, seemed to hint at other reasons.

“As stated in the state’s petition (for seizing the child, which is under seal and publicly unavailable), the sole basis for the removal (of the child) was the parents objections to being taken to Wyoming for treatment,” the court brief said.

The Kolstads are also concerned because they say after their child was released in September from the Wyoming facility, the child has been living in a group home in Billings.

“Staff members there are addressing H.K. by her preferred male name. They allow her to use men’s toiletries and wear men’s clothes and a chest binder. (The child) attends all-boy group sessions at the group home. A therapist at the group home is counseling (the child) to reach a goal of accepting her chosen gender 80% of the time. The parents have objected to all of these messages, but to no avail,” the court brief said.

The Kolstads were told on Jan. 26, in a conference that included a county attorney, Dylan Jensen, and a child protection specialist, Crystal Whitmore, that in order to be reunified with their child, the couple would be required to “participate in marriage counseling and accept (their child’s) gender identity.”

“The parents stated their marriage was fine and they did not accept the state’s claim that (their child) was now a male,” the court brief said. “Jensen and Whitmore both laughed and told the parents, ‘You don’t understand. You have to accept the services.’”

Gianforte, as well as other members of the state, addressed the situation on social media last week. Gianforte said that he had personally charged Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras to review the case. Juras is an attorney who has taught at the University of Montana School of Law and run for the Montana Supreme Court.

Gianforte said that Juras determined that DPHHS and the court have followed state policy and law, according to his posts on Twitter/X.

“Gov. Gianforte and his staff are publicly insinuating that (the child’s) seizure was necessitated by some horrifying fact, such as the parents’ ‘living in absolute filth,’ operating ‘meth labs,’ or being ‘dealers and addicts.’ But the parents risk jail time by responding to the governor’s lies,” the court brief said.

In the court filings, Monforton references the Child Protective Services report that found that the four-bedroom home was clean and stocked with food. Moreover, the reason for removing the Kolstads’ child was because of suicidal thoughts and the availability of the bed. However, because those documents are contained in a court filing that involves the health of a minor, they are unavailable for access.