Advocates are suing the state of Texas after Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton declared that gender-affirming care constitutes “child abuse.”
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal asks the court to block a Feb. 22 directive from Abbott ordering the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate parents who help their children access gender-affirming health care. Abbott’s order was issued one day after Paxton released an opinion falsely claiming that puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) “harm young Texans.”
The suit was submitted to a district court in Travis County, which is home to the Texas capital of Austin, on March 2. It claims the governor’s actions have “caused terror and anxiety among transgender youth and their families” and “singled out transgender youth and their families for discrimination and harassment.”
“The Governor has circumvented the will of the legislature and, in so doing, he and the Commissioner have run afoul of numerous Constitutional and statutory limits on their power,” court documents read.
While the directives are not technically laws and therefore are not legally binding, the news still sparked fear and alarm among Texas trans youth and their families. Several parents of trans kids have already reported that they are being investigated by the state, as the New York Times reports. This includes one mother employed by the DFPS itself, who has a trans daughter and is a plaintiff in the suit.
The DFPS employee’s family has already had an investigator come to their home, according to the complaint. The family has, thus far, refused to turn their daughter’s medical records over to the agency.
The suit emphasized the mental health toll that the investigation has taken on the family, who is unnamed in court documents. They have been “unable to sleep, worrying about what they can do and how they can keep their family intact and their daughter safe and healthy,” as the mother notes in the complaint. She says her daughter has been “traumatized by the prospect that she could be separated from her parents and could lose access to the medical treatment that has enabled her to thrive.”
Ultimately, the family says that depriving their daughter of gender-affirming health care is “not an option for them.” “Their topmost goal and duty [is] to ensure Mary’s health and wellbeing,” the court documents state.
If DFPS decides the family has committed child abuse as defined by the directive, they will be placed on a registry and the mother will be fired from her position, per the suit.
The filing also represents a licensed psychologist who claims that following the directive would harm her clients and violate ethical obligations. As a mandatory reporter, she would be required to have youth under her care investigated by DFPS.
Advocates for trans youth have pointed out that the forms of gender-affirming care named in the directive have been proven to save lives and improve mental health outcomes for trans youth. Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, says in a statement that the opinion goes against the expertise of doctors and child welfare professionals.
“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” Pérez affirms.
The lawsuit names Abbott, along with DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters and the DFPS as defendants. Advocates claim the opinions were issued without proper authority and violate “the Texas Administrative Procedures Act, the separation of powers requirements of the Texas Constitution and the constitutional rights of transgender youth and their parents.”
While this suit represents the first legal challenge to the opinions, it might not be the last. Since last week, at least three reports of trans youth receiving gender-affirming care have been submitted to DFPS, according to the Texas Tribune.
Some advocates say Abbott and Paxton’s attacks on trans youth were politically motivated. The letters were issued just one week before the state’s contentious primary race, in which both incumbents are seeking re-election. Both won their respective primaries by fairly large margins on March 1 and will now move onto the November general election. They are both likely to win another term in office.
Even before the recent directives, trans youth in Texas were already facing a hostile climate. Last year, legislators introduced more than 70 bills targeting the LGBTQ2S+ community, including proposals to ban access to gender-affirming care for trans minors and prohibit trans youth from participating on sports teams that match their gender. While legislators only managed to pass one bill—the anti-trans sports ban—many others like them have been introduced in states across the country this year.
Thus far, Texas is the only state to have issued a directive restricting health care for trans youth. While Arkansas managed to pass a bill restricting life-saving care for minors last year, it was quickly blocked by an ACLU suit. The case is ongoing and has progressed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the face of increasing attacks on trans youth across the country, LGBTQ2S+ advocates say they will continue to protect the community’s most vulnerable.
“Our youth, our communities, will not be used as political props,” says Emmett Schelling, executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), in a statement. “We will not allow for these continued efforts to restrict access to life-saving care and criminalize families based on patently false information.”