Texas is investigating parents for mentoring transgender youth, Suit says

HOUSTON — Texas officials have begun screening parents of transgender youth for possible child abuse, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday, after Gov. Greg Abbott last week ordered them to treat certain medical treatments as possible crimes.

The investigation by the state Department of Family and Protection Services, which was not previously reported, was initiated in response to an order from Mr. Abbott to the agency, the lawsuit says. The order followed a non-binding opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that parents who give their transgender teens puberty-suppressing drugs or other medically-approved treatments — which doctors call gender-affirming nursing — could be investigated for child molestation.

Among the first to be investigated was a government protection worker who has a 16-year-old transgender child. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Lambda Legal went to an Austin state court to try to drop the investigation.

The employee, who was not named in the court filings, works to review reports of abuse and neglect. She was placed on administrative leave last week, according to the file, and was visited on Friday by an investigator from the agency, which is also requesting medical records on her child. The child’s family, identified only as Mary Doe in court documents, have refused to voluntarily release the records.

“We are concerned for Mary’s health and well-being and for our family,” the clerk wrote in a statement filed with the lawsuit, which identifies her and her husband as Jane and John Doe. “I feel betrayed by my state and the agency I work for.”

She added, “Not providing Mary with the medically necessary healthcare she needs is not an option for us.”

According to the lawsuit, the state investigator told the parents that the only allegation against them was that their transgender daughter may have received gender-affirming healthcare and is “currently transitioning from male to female.”

Neither a spokeswoman for the state protection agency nor the governor’s office responded to requests for comment.

It was not clear whether Mr. Abbott’s order would stand up to judicial review. The order does not change Texas law, and several prosecutors and district attorneys have said they would not prosecute families for child molestation under the new definition. Nonetheless, Mr Abbott’s directive has had a chilling effect and the impact of the redefinition is significant.

As Mr Abbott described in his letter, the order would mean that “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children” would have to report to state authorities those they believe are receiving gender-affirming treatment, or face criminal penalties would have to calculate.

In the court filing filed Tuesday, the Texas ACLU and Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that focuses on the LGBTQ community, sought to block the request for medical records in the employee’s case, and more broadly questioned the legitimacy of the investigation’s authority of the governor to change the definition of child abuse. According to the records, other investigations have also begun.

The groups argue in the lawsuit that the governor’s order was improperly enacted under state law, violated the Texas Constitution and violated the constitutional rights of transgender youth and their parents.

“No family should fear being torn apart for supporting their trans child,” Adri Pérez, policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “A week before an election, Governor Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton released a partisan political attack not rooted in the needs of families.”

dr Megan Mooney, a licensed psychologist in Houston, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. dr Mooney, who is required by Texas law to report suspected child abuse, has a practice that includes transgender patients, many of whom have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, according to the lawsuit.

The mandate and news of research into gender-affirming medical care has had a chilling effect on families with transgender children or teenagers — many of whom no longer want to go on record or publicly identify as trans.

A parent of a transgender teenager in Houston said that in light of Mr. Abbott’s order, the family’s health clinic, Legacy Community Health, has suspended all refills and new prescriptions for transgender minors. Her son only has a week’s supply of his testosterone prescription left, leaving the family looking for other options. “We feel absolutely betrayed,” said the mother, who requested anonymity to protect her child’s safety.

Legacy Community Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another family said they were frustrated, angry and nervous about Mr. Abbott’s order. Willow Egerton, 13, proudly speaks openly about her identity as a trans woman.

“It’s super scary to see all these people being against you and wanting you gone,” Willow said, adding that parents who support their trans kids “is not child abuse.”

Owen Egerton, 49, said his daughter’s confidence in who she is outweighs her fear of legal repercussions. On Tuesday, his daughter marched to the State Capitol in Austin, where the family lives, wearing a trans flag — light blue, pink, and white — as a cape and neon knee-high socks with the trans flag on it.

“The alternative of hiding seems like the worst solution,” he said. “While it’s nerve-wracking and scary, the last thing we want to do is be silenced.”

Mr. Egerton declined to discuss the nature of Willow’s care due to privacy concerns, but he said the family is not planning any changes “due to a two-page letter from the governor.” He said his family may consider moving out of state in the future, but that they feel an obligation to fight against that order no matter where they live.

The moves by Mr. Abbott and Mr. Paxton, both two-term Republican incumbents, came days before a primary where each faces significant and vocal challenge from far-right opponents. Mr Paxton, who has been charged with securities fraud and accused of corruption by his own former top employees, was seen as particularly at risk. Going into the primary on Tuesday, it seemed unlikely he would get more than 50 percent of the vote, and he would likely end up in a May runoff.

In the past year, the state government in Texas has slid sharply to the right, especially on social issues. Abortion has been severely restricted in the state since the enactment of a new law last September that effectively banned the procedure at six weeks of pregnancy and empowered ordinary citizens to enforce its provisions.

The push to investigate parents for child abuse when they provide certain medical treatments to their transgender children similarly hinges on ordinary Texans reporting suspected violations. In the case of teachers, doctors and others who need to report what they believe to be child abuse, this is necessary.

Paul Castillo, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said in a statement that Mr Abbott and Mr Paxton “join a politically motivated misinformation campaign without regard to medical science and appear determined to criminalize parents attempting to care for and care for their children.” supply. ‘, adding that ‘gender-affirming care to treat gender dysphoria is medically necessary care, period.’

However, the officials’ moves have been praised by some groups opposed to such treatments. “Minors are prohibited from buying paint, cigarettes, alcohol or even getting a tattoo,” Jonathan Covey, political director of group Texas Values, said in a statement last week. “We cannot allow minors or their parents to make life-changing decisions about body-mutilating procedures and irreversible hormone treatments.”

Efforts to phase out treatment for transgender teenagers have been harshly criticized by professional medical groups and transgender health experts, who have stated that such decisions, particularly those involving medical risks, should be weighed by a patient, their parents, and their physicians . Studies have found that transgender teenagers are at a higher risk of suicide.

There has been some debate among doctors about the specifics of treating young people, as more and more teenagers attempted to use hormones and surgery to make their bodies more compliant with their gender identity.

At the same time, more than 20 states, including Texas, have passed legislation banning gender-affirming treatment of teenagers, despite not having passed such legislation in the last legislative session. In Texas, one of the bills would have redefined child abuse to include gender-affirming treatment for transgender children.

After those bills failed, Mr Abbott last summer instructed the state protection agency to determine whether surgeries on transgender teenagers would constitute child abuse. The agency also removed information about gender identity and a suicide prevention hotline from its website after one of Mr. Abbott’s main opponents, Don Huffines, the Republican main opponent, attacked the governor for “promoting transgender sex policies toward Texas youth.” “.

Then, late last month, Mr. Paxton made his statement and Mr. Abbott responded with his direction. According to Tuesday’s file, the agency began its investigation almost immediately afterwards.

Azeen Ghorayshi contributed reporting.

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