Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) just continued the GOP assault on the rights of trans youth by sending a letter to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reclassifying almost all gender-affirming treatments as child abuse.
And by doing so at the urging of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), not so subtly, the Governor is officially putting the state’s agencies on notice of their duty to investigate any and all cases of purported child abuse as they define Texas law. This executive action by the two top Republican elected officials in Texas comes on the heels of the legislature’s failure to enact an actual statute criminalizing trans persons.
Governor Abbott also instructed agencies and individuals who may come in contact with transgender children to report to the appropriate entity that they suspect a transgender child of being abused.
The Republican Governor’s order includes gender reassignment surgery, which isn’t being performed on children, puberty blockers, and hormone treatments.
Greg Abbott’s letter even says that anyone suspected of either treating transgender children or assisting them in getting treatment could subject medical service providers to criminal prosecution. Even the school teacher of a transgender student could be subject to arrest based on the draconian order. Here’s an excerpt:
Texas law imposes reporting requirements upon all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse, including doctors, nurses and teachers, and provides criminal pnalties for failure to report such child abuse.
The wording in this is important. It gives ordinary citizens the power to accuse, without proof, a parent, teacher, physician, counselor, spiritual advisor, or anyone supportive in confirming a child’s gender identity of child abuse.
The organization GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders) publishes a four-step primer on how to fend off false allegations of child abuse. But the gubernatorial fiat from Greg Abbott renders final judgment against parents whose children are not gender conforming and need medical treatment.
A previous bill introduced in the Texas legislature – which didn’t pass – would have allowed parents of transgender children to be jailed and to let the state take their children from a loving home and put them into foster care.
The only crime Texas Republican legislators tried to enact into law is supporting one’s own child in gender transition.
Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s current order is not far off from the failed legislation.
Here is the letter (story continues below):
Greg Abbott is using the state’s definition of abuse to justify the enforcement of what is being called OAG Opinion No. KP-0401, which reads:
Texas Family Code Chapter 261 requires any person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person to immediately make a report to DFPS.
While DFPS has said it will comply with the Attorney General’s opinion, many local District Attorneys and local government agencies have publicly stated that they will not comply. Including Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee. According to Menefee, “This is a complete misrepresentation of the definition of abuse in the family code.” He went on to say that his office doesn’t believe that “allowing someone to take puberty suppressants constitutes abuse.”
In 2021 the number of anti-trans legislation introduced in states around the country reached a record high. And Texas is leading the way with three times the number of bills drafted than any other state.
While nearly all of those bills failed to pass both state legislative chambers and become law, the controversy surrounding them was enough to adversely impact the treatment of transgender youth. Increased reports of bullying and anti-trans violence in the years following the controversial bathroom bill introduced in 2017.
In 2015, the Houston, Texas Equal Rights Ordinance ballot initiative was overturned. It would have banned discrimination on not just protected classes such as race, sex, and religion but included sexual orientation and gender identity. The reversal led to a more aggressive anti-transgender legislative campaign by Texas Republicans. After the state of North Carolina introduced its anti-trans ‘bathroom bill’ known as HB2, Texas introduced one of their own. They would introduce multiple bills in the coming years that would fail to become law in 2017, 2019, and again in 2021.
A few of the bills introduced in either the Texas State House or Senate include:
- SB 29 – Bill banning trans youth access to sports by requiring participation based on the gender stated on the birth certificate.
- HB 1458 – Bans trans youth from participating in sports based on biological sex. Which could lead to intrusive physical examinations.
- HB 68 – Defines life-saving gender-affirming treatment by medical professionals as child abuse.
With the amount of anti-trans legislation creating an environment of fear for providers of care and treatment to transgender youth, places that offered medical services like The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center, which had the only multidisciplinary clinic for transgender youth, chose to close their doors instead.
According to non-profit LGBTQ advocacy group The Trevor Project, the introduction and debate of anti-trans legislation have affected the mental health of transgender teens and youth. They saw an increase in calls to the Trevor Lifeline, which offers support to LGBTQ youth and focuses on suicide prevention where they can get mental and emotional support while maintaining their anonymity. A study by The Trevor Project revealed that 85% of trans youth have admitted suffering mentally as a result of the constant GOP attacks on the transgender community. Almost half of all LGBTQ youth have confessed to contemplating suicide.
Renowned medical associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association all support gender-affirming treatment. They each agree that when done cautiously and age-appropriately is not abuse but can be life-saving.
This is not the first attack on healthcare for vulnerable populations from Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, but it could shape up to be his most consequential action in office.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick