Texas vs. transgender teens

Lawsuit continues over Abbott’s order for state to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse

Samantha Powers, co-editor in chief

People participating in the March for Trans Youth were seen protesting Governor Greg Abbott’s declaration that he aims to designate gender affirming procedures on minors as child abuse at the Texas State Capitol building on the first day of primary voting for midterm elections in Austin, Texas on March 1, 2022. Photo: Christopher Lee for the New York Times.

In February, Gov. Abbott directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to begin investigating gender-affirming care for transgender kids as child abuse. He also established a mandatory reporting requirement for teachers, doctors and citizens. One DFPS worker was investigated for providing her trans daughter with gender-affirming care, and her family sued Gov. Abbott in a joint lawsuit with a Houston psychologist who took issue with the reporting requirement.

Trans kids are already at an increased risk for mental health issues and suicidality. … There’s now this fear of the state potentially coming in and taking you out of your home.”

— Maddy Dwertman, a lawyer working on the court case against Abbott's directive

After the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals reinstated a temporary injunction on Abbott’s directive from a district court, Abbott appealed. Now, both sides await a decision from the Texas Supreme Court about whether the injunction will remain in place. For now, investigations of transgender families are on hold, but many still fear their families being torn apart.

The DFPS worker involved in the suit chose to remain anonymous, and she is named in the case as Jane Doe. The ACLU, Lambda Legal and Baker Botts brought suit on behalf of the family. Maddy Dwertman is a Baker Botts lawyer on the case, and they can speak firsthand about the stress trans families are facing.

“For families of trans children, just the threat of investigation itself is very unnerving,” Dwertman said. “Trans kids are already at an increased risk for mental health issues and suicidality. To the extent your parents have been supportive, and you’ve seen a medical doctor, there’s now this fear of the state potentially coming in and taking you out of your home.”

Sophomore Adrian Recar is a transgender student and a member of the Spectrum alliance at McCallum. While he dismisses Abbott’s directive as “pathetic,” he also worries for families facing investigation.

“It’s a desperate attack, but it’s putting people in danger,” Recar said. “If the injunction ends, and the directive is able to pass, it could tear families—that have a strong bond, where the parents are not abusing their children—it could tear them apart.”

Many DFPS employees are uncomfortable with treating gender-affirming care as child abuse, and some long-time workers have been leaving their jobs. Although employees are worried about leaving the agency with fewer resources, many can’t reconcile the directive with their ethics.

They’re starting to make attacks on trans children because we’re not adults, so they think that we can’t speak up as well as adults could.”

— sophomore Adrian Reckar

While DFPS employees withdraw from their positons, many transgender families are fleeing the state of Texas in fear of being investigated. Dwertman believes this may have been Abbott’s plan all along.

“There are questions about the broader goal, unrelated to this case,” Dwertman said. “I have friends with trans kids in Texas, and lots of them are just leaving. I think there’s just a ripple effect, so if part of their goal is to make sure there’s not trans youth in Texas… regardless of where the legal battle ultimately ends up, I think there’s a lot of damage along the way.”

Ultimately, Dwertman is disappointed in the suppression of trans youth being used as a tool for Texas politicians.

“The use of politics to pick on vulnerable people is an age-old tactic,” Dwertman said. “But in the past couple years, we’ve really seen trans youths becoming the target of a lot of state legislation.”
Recar echoed Dwertman’s disgust with recent attempts by the Texas legislature to suppress the trans community.

“They’re starting to make attacks on trans children because we’re not adults, so they think that we can’t speak up as well as adults could,” Recar said. “They tried to make an attack on the trans adult community in Texas a couple years ago, and it backfired on them, so they said, ‘Let’s attack trans kids.'”

Dwertman has concerns that Abbott’s directive violates separation of powers by creating state law that couldn’t even make it through the Texas legislature.

“The legislature considered whether or not it was going to deem gender-affirming care for trans youth to be improper or child abuse, especially during the last legislative session, and they didn’t pass it,” Dwertman said. “So who are the governor and DFPS to essentially be creating state law?”

gender is something that is really scary for a lot of people. It takes a lot of courage to come out as not cisgender, and not what everyone has viewed you as for so long.”

— junior Marshall Clifton

When it comes to Abbott’s characterization of gender-affirming care as child abuse, McCallum students in the Spectrum alliance say that Abbott couldn’t be more wrong.

Junior Marshall Clifton, a Spectrum leader, knows that confronting gender identity is hard enough without legal pressure from the state.
“I’ve met a lot of people of a lot of different genders and sexualities in my time, people who are out, who are not out, and I know that gender is something that is really scary for a lot of people,” Clifton said. “It takes a lot of courage to come out as not cisgender, and not what everyone has viewed you as for so long.”

If Abbott’s directive goes back into effect, Recar is worried about trans kids who can no longer receive the treatment they need.
“If medically transitioning is no longer available for trans kids, the reality is that there’s going to be a lot more suicides and deaths,” Recar said. “The rate of trans kids’ suicides is already so much higher because of dysphoria, and because of not being supported.”
Ultimately, Recar says, Abbott’s directive got it wrong. For him, and for many transgender children across Texas, the love and support of a parent means the world.

“Supporting your child is one of the best things you can do for them,” Recar said. “Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, they’re trying to be like, ‘Oh, no, it’s actually a bad thing,’ as if you’re abusing your kids by loving them and saying, ‘I support you, and I understand who you are.'”