Fear, Anxiety for Texas Trans Kids Under GOP Attack

Republicans' moral panic leads to real panic for marginalized kids

Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked Texas Supreme Court to overrule a lower court's injunction, which would allow investigations of families with trans kids

Despite a temporary halt to politically motivated child abuse investigations of families with trans kids, parents and advocates say they continue to live in fear as anti-trans moral panic sweeps through the Lone Star State's GOP base voters and their leaders.

The ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal have won four successive rulings in their challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott's directive to investigate normal gender affirming health care as child abuse. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to overrule a lower court's injunction and allow Child Protective Services investigations to continue immediately. Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney from Lambda Legal representing the plaintiffs, told the Chronicle that she expects a favorable ruling, because both the law and medical experts are on Lambda Legal's side.

"The [Texas] Family Code says parents have to provide medically necessary care to their kids," Skeen said. She noted that gender affirming care is proven to dramatically improve the mental health of and reduce the rate of suicide in trans young people. "Why would the government come in and say, well, despite all this [evidence] we're going to tell you what you can and can't do?" If the courts allow this intrusion into people's private lives, she asked, "Where does it stop?"

Texas continues to look for other ways to put pressure on trans kids, their parents, and their health care providers. In late March, Paxton's office filed new investigative demands in a civil case against two pharmaceutical companies, Endo Phar­ma­ceuticals and AbbVie Inc., which provide puberty-blocker drugs. Although approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of children who enter puberty early, they're also prescribed (with the backing of experts like the American Medical Association) as a way to delay puberty in transgender kids who are too young to receive other forms of medical treatment such as hormones.

Paxton has accused the companies of advertising their drugs to doctors for use in trans health care, which could contravene FDA guidelines. Neither pharmaceutical company responded to a request for comment from the Chronicle, but Endo told The Texas Tribune that they're complying with the investigation.

Multiple court cases have upheld the legality of "off-label" use of prescriptions, meaning doctors could continue to prescribe puberty blockers to trans kids, regardless of the outcome of this civil investigation. Similarly, Paxton's December 2020 legal opinion, which urged mandated reporters (those legally required to report abuse, such as doctors or teachers) to report families with trans kids to Child Protective Services, is not legally binding. However, Ricardo Martinez, executive director of Equality Texas, emphasized that Texas is becoming increasingly hostile to transgender people, after years of sustained attacks by the right, regardless of the legal protections that remain in place.

Some health care providers have reduced or eliminated services to trans kids and adolescents. Equality Texas, Lambda Legal, and their partner organizations have been flooded with reports of threats against people across the LGBTQIA spectrum, of all ages, in recent months. These have included verbal bullying, pressure for educators to stay in the closet, and even physical assaults against students.

“We thankfully have a lot of support from friends and family that would help [us] relocate if things got worse here.” – Central Texas mother of a transgender child

Martinez suggested the last Texas legislative session marked a significant change for the worse. "People are afraid to just navigate the daily tasks of life because they don't know if there's going to be someone who's ... going to discriminate against them because they've been emboldened by this rhetoric that's been at the forefront for the past two years."

Recently, right-wing pundits and online trolls began promoting the notion that adults who support trans or queer kids are "groomers" or pedophiles – which is a modern spin on a very old form of homophobia. One mother of a nonbinary 12-year-old (who uses they/them pronouns) told us that widespread bullying in an Austin-area public school put her child in crisis, ultimately resulting in their hospitalization for emergency mental health care. (The Chronicle agreed to keep the family's identity anonymous.)

In one particularly harmful incident, her child's teacher claimed, in front of the classroom, that the reason her child is transgender is because they were groomed by their queer parents. Their mother told us, "Once the directive hit I was terrified that the teacher would report us." Abbott's anti-trans "abuse" directive has also made the entire process of getting health care for her child fraught with risk. "It's really scary having to disclose [their] gender identity," she wrote. "Because we never know who is safe and who is a bigot." Like many families with trans kids, she's considering leaving the state, though her financial situation prevents them from leaving immediately. "We thankfully have a lot of support from friends and family that would help [us] relocate if things got worse here."

Abbott's directive has reportedly also thrown CPS into disarray. At least a half-dozen investigators have resigned over the directive. In addition to the resignations, other CPS officials filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit. Abbott's directive forces CPS officials to closely investigate every single claim of abuse involving a trans kid, and prevents them from closing the cases after they've shown the families to be safe and healthy.

Austin lawyer Tracy Harting, who is defending two Central Texas families, told us that the investigations against her clients remain open to this day, months after CPS determined that there were no signs of abuse. "It's still hanging over them like that boulder over the coyote," she said.

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