Her trans son is 18. Texas is investigating her for child abuse anyway

Despite her son being an adult, Hayley Morgan is still being targeted for supporting his gender-affirming health care while he was a child

When Hayley Morgan’s child came out as a transgender boy in 2017, just before his 13th birthday, she was surprised but supportive. 

“Before he transitioned he was this sad, kind of depressed kid,” she tells Xtra from her home near Austin, Texas. “Each thing we did, whether it was medical or just like, cutting his hair, redoing his room, new wardrobe […] Each step just made him happier.”

That support has led to her being investigated by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), due to a recent letter from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that authorised the state’s child protection agency to investigate parents of trans children. Last week, an agent knocked Morgan’s door and informed her she was under investigation for child abuse—despite the fact her son is 18 and attending college in a different state.

Morgan, who chose to speak under a pseudonym, is currently employed as a social worker. She says that DFPS told her that the agency has the right to “investigate the abuse that happened prior to my son turning 18 because I’m a danger to my clients.”

Further complicating her case is that Morgan supported her son’s transition, but her ex-husband did not. She says he repeatedly filed false claims of child abuse against her for affirming their son’s gender, meaning there are nine closed cases attached to her name in the state’s records. She says DFPS has told her attorney that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and that the “nine closed cases mean that I’ve been hiding something for years.”

“They go through your life with a fine tooth comb,” Morgan says, “and it’s violating.”

“I can barely eat, I’m barely sleeping. I know I haven’t done anything, but my anxiety’s off the charts.”

If Morgan is found to have abused her son, she will lose her job. Her case suggests DFPS may be setting a dangerous precedent that all supportive parents of trans kids may be investigated for “child abuse,” no matter how old their children are now. 

Abbott’s directive to investigate supportive parents followed a non-binding legal opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claiming gender-affirming was “child abuse,” mirroring a failed bill introduced in 2021 seeking to criminalise parents who allow their kids to transition. No legislation outlawing trans-affirming health care for children exists in Texas, although the state proposed more than 70 bills targeting the LGBTQ2s+ community last year, the largest number in U.S. history.

Elsewhere in the U.S. this month, the Idaho House passed a bill banning affirming care for trans children, while the Alabama Senate has also approved a similar bill. Idaho’s legislation threatens medical providers who treat trans youth with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

 

Amid these nationwide attacks on trans health care, Texas Children’s Hospital made the decision to stop providing hormones earlier this week, citing the need to “safeguard our health care professionals and impacted families from potential criminal legal ramifications.” Texas’ largest gender clinic, Genecis, was effectively forced to close last year following what the New York Times described as “unrelenting political pressure” from right-wing groups.

Parents of trans kids in Texas are waiting to see whether the courts will help. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit last week aiming to stop the child abuse investigations. A judge issued a temporary restraining order on March 2 preventing DFPS from investigating the parents of a 16-year-old trans girl, as well as a counsellor who treats trans youth as part of her practice.

Last week’s court ruling, however, stopped short of a full injunction against Abbott’s directive. A hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine whether other parents of trans kids will also be protected.

While the Biden administration has signalled that it is ready to take legal action to protect Texas trans youth, LGBTQ2S+ advocates are concerned about the lives that will be impacted by these investigations. “I’m worried that the Department of Family and Protective Services is going to cause irreparable harm to trans families across Texas by exploiting their lack of familiarity with the system,” Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, told The 19th.

In the meantime, all parents can do is wait. “I can barely eat, I’m barely sleeping,” Morgan says. “I know I haven’t done anything, but my anxiety’s off the charts.”

V.S. Wells

V. S. Wells is a British writer living in Vancouver, B.C., with bylines in Slate, VICE and Autostraddle. Please stop asking them about Brexit.

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