A crucial upcoming hearing, perhaps as early as March 11, could put the brakes on Gov. Greg Abbott's directive for the state to investigate – as presumed child abuse – any gender affirming medical care provided to transgender youth. In the meantime, trans Austinites and allies are banding together to defend their human rights.
Transgender UT student Ash Terry organized a roughly 350-person protest March 1. After Abbott's draconian directive inspired an outpouring of support, she said she's actually feeling more hopeful for the future of trans kids in Texas than ever. "I was surprised at the number of cis[gender] allies out there," she said. "I was just really staggered that there were so many, and a lot of people from out of town. This whole experience has given me a lot of hope."
The current crisis began on Feb. 18, when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a (nonbinding) legal opinion in response to a request sent way back in August by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth – who, between then and now, briefly entered the A.G. primary against Paxton before instead running for Tarrant County district attorney. That opinion states that the "'sex change' procedures and treatments [referenced by Krause], when performed on children, can legally constitute child abuse under several provisions of chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code." These include both surgical procedures and hormonal treatments (though doctors who treat trans kids say surgeries are extremely rare).
Four days later, Abbott directed the Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services to open investigations into parents and providers who've allowed trans youth to receive gender affirming care. The first of these, as it happened, was a DFPS employee who asked if this directive now applied to them; she was immediately placed on leave while an inquiry was opened into her 16-year-old's case. On March 1, the same day as the Capitol rally organized by Terry – and also the primary election in which Paxton, Abbott, and Krause were all running – ACLU Texas and Lambda Legal sued the state on the teen's behalf.
The following day, District Judge Amy Clark Meachum granted a restraining order against Abbott, DFPS, and its director, Jaime Masters, in the teen's case, but did not extend it to apply to all others who might be similarly investigated. That statewide injunction was to be decided at a March 11 hearing in Meachum's Austin court, but Paxton signaled his intent to appeal the initial order, which places the hearing on hold until that appeal is resolved in the state's higher courts.
Abbott and Paxton had to resort to a directive after the 87th Texas Legislature failed to pass a bill banning gender affirming care during any of its four sessions in 2021. The failure to do so is a campaign issue for several hard-right candidates who've made it to the run-offs for Texas House seats, as well as for several of their wealthy backers. "This was just so dystopian, just so awful and dystopian," said Terry. However, the protest rally left her with some hope. "If what I saw on Tuesday was any indication, we have a lot of people willing to fight for us."
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