On February 22, in the final days before crowded Republican primaries, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott announced that affirming a transgender young person’s gender identity could be considered “child abuse” under Texas law. In essence, they are trying to criminalize the love of devoted parents and eradicate the survival opportunities of Texas young people.
In response to an inquiry from House Representative Matt Krause, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion from the Office of the Attorney General that gender-affirming medical treatment, “when performed on children, can legally constitute child abuse.” Abbott then issued a directive to the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to launch investigations into any instances of what he refers to as “these abusive procedures.” Under threat of criminal prosecution, he called on any licensed professionals—including doctors, nurses, and teachers—to report families who affirm their transgender children for potential investigation.
These opinions from Abbott and Paxton set off a wave of panic among transgender youth, their families, their medical providers, and allied communities across the country. Even though neither document is binding on either the DFPS or the courts, the Texas political leadership has made parents terrified to send their children to school, to take them to the doctor, and to remain in the state. And even if no legitimate investigation can be born of these political acts by Abbott and Paxton, they have already transformed life for transgender Texans and their families. There is a precariousness that comes with knowing you are being surveilled and that your care and love for your child can be the very thing that leads to government efforts to remove them from your home.
On a Zoom call hosted by the ACLU of Texas and other local groups with hundreds of families on Wednesday evening, Texas parents, educators, and medical providers filled the chat with questions about their safety and the safety of the children in their custody and care. For most parents of transgender adolescents, the road to medical treatment is a long and painful one. No parent wants to watch their child suffer, and every parent fears for their child’s future health and well-being. gender dysphoria, the diagnosis that many transgender people have, can be serious when untreated. It results in clinically significant depression and other negative impacts flowing from the experience of having a gender that does not align with one’s sex assigned at birth. But this condition and its treatments are not new.