Parents of trans kids under attack by Texas Republicans say they're 'devastated'

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'I am relieved that we are moving out of state and filled with anxiety for everyone who can't escape this nightmare,' one parent said.

The Texas Department of Family Protective Services is investigating parents of transgender kids for child abuse, according to a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and recent media reports. These investigations came after, in February, Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said that gender-affirming care was child abuse and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) directed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services to investigate parents helping their kids access this care.

Their description of this type of health care as child abuse goes against what mainstream medical groups have said about gender-affirming health care and how it benefits many transgender young people. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Texas Pediatric Society released a joint statement opposing Abbott's decision. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry made a similar statement.

The federal government has also ramped up its response on Wednesday after it became clear that families were being investigated. President Joe Biden stated on Wednesday, "These actions are terrifying many families in Texas and beyond. And they must stop." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it was releasing guidance to state child welfare agencies explaining that health care providers do not have to release private patient information related to gender-affirming care. The federal agency will also "ensure that families and healthcare providers in Texas are aware of all the resources available to them if they face discrimination as a result of this discriminatory gubernatorial order."

According to The 19th, a news publication that reports on gender and politics, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services has received at least three reports of child abuse related to parents providing gender-affirming care. The outlet also reported that a family attorney in Texas, Ian Pittman, said he was representing two families facing these investigations and was aware of at least three other investigations into child abuse.

On March 1, the ACLU, ACLU of Texas, and Lambda Legal asked a Texas state court to halt the agency from carrying out these investigations. The plaintiffs are the mother of a transgender 16-year-old girl, the girl herself, and the mother's husband. The mother is an employee of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. Dr. Megan Mooney, a psychologist, is another plaintiff in the lawsuit. Mooney is "considered a mandatory reporter under Texas law and cannot comply with the governor's directive without harming her clients and violating her ethical obligations," according to the ACLU.

The mother who was under investigation, described as Jane Doe in the case, spoke with her supervisor at the agency on Feb. 23 to understand how Abbott's and Paxton's actions would affect their policies, according to the ACLU and Lambda Legal's petition to block these investigations. According to the petition, she was placed on leave that same day "because she has a transgender daughter with a medical need for treatment of gender dysphoria." On Feb. 25, a DFPS Child Protective Services investigator came to speak to the family and tried unsuccessfully to get Doe to allow him to access her daughter's medical records.

On Wednesday, Judge Amy Clark Meachum, who sits on Texas' 201st District Court, granted a restraining order to block the agency from investigating the plaintiffs in the case. At the hearing, Ryan Kercher, an attorney in Paxton's office, argued that Paxton's opinion is that gender-affirming care is not "necessarily or per se abusive" but "could be used by somebody to harm a child."

"How often does the governor send DFPS directives on doing investigations or what types of investigations they should do?" Meachum asked Kercher at the hearing. The state prosecutor said he hadn't collected that information yet. Meachum scheduled another hearing for March 11 to potentially block the investigations entirely.

On March 2, several representatives of LGBTQ advocacy groups and civil rights groups gathered in Austin on the steps of the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse. Speakers from the Transgender Education Network of Texas, the ACLU of Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas, the Texas Freedom Network, and Lambda Legal spoke out against the investigations and read statements from parents who did not attend because they were fearful of the potential consequences.

"There is a lot of fear and trepidation about coming out publicly while witch hunts for parents of transgender kids are happening, but I do want to bring them in spirit," said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas.

Martinez read statements from several parents of trans kids from all over Texas.

"I am relieved that we are moving out of state and filled with anxiety for everyone who can't escape this nightmare," said one parent in Houston.

A parent in Austin said, "I have tried to stay positive, but it's hard when you feel like you are in an abusive relationship with your home state."

"My family is devastated," said a parent in San Antonio.

Marti Bier, director of programs at the Texas Freedom Network, read a parent's statement that said, "I can't be here today to speak because my family is scared and worried that speaking publicly could lead to a criminal investigation. That sounds outlandish, but it is a reality for many Texas families."

The parent said they began the process of preparing to leave for another state in 2021 when S.B. 1646, a Texas bill that would have defined gender-affirming care as child abuse, was up for consideration in the Legislature. The bill ultimately failed. The parent is now moving to another state where they say trans people have explicit nondiscrimination protections, according to the statement Bier read.

The parent added, "We are choosing to grieve the loss of our home instead of the loss of our child."

Another Texas parent, who asked to be identified only as Jessica out of concern for potential legal consequences, told the American Independent Foundation that an investigator from Child Protective Services came to her home on March 1 to look into whether she had committed child abuse for helping her transgender son access gender-affirming care.

Jessica's son is now 18 years old — making him a legal adult — and attends college in another state. But the Child Protective Services investigator, who had the wrong birthdate for the child, insisted to Jessica that he was a minor. When Jessica corrected the investigator, the woman told Jessica that she could still be prosecuted for the care she helped her son receive before he turned 18.

"I was shaking when I shut the door. I don't know if it's rage or fear or what," Jessica said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.