Lawsuit Targets Texas for Investigating Families of Trans Youth

FILE PHOTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks in Dallas, Texas
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is ramping up his attacks on transgender youth.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Update (3/22/21): An appeals court in Texas has reinstated a temporary injunction barring the state from investigating families of trans youth receiving gender-affirming care. The ruling came after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton signaled that he would ignore the court ruling ordering the state to stop investigating the families.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Texas, and Lambda Legal are mounting a legal fight against Texas after at least one family said investigators have been targeting them as part of the state’s new plan to probe parents of children receiving gender-affirming care.

The legal groups filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court on behalf of two anonymous parents and their 16-year-old trans girl after the Department of Family and Protective Services allegedly launched an investigation into the family and visited their home. According to the lawsuit, the child’s mother works for DFPS — and she was immediately punished when she asked her supervisor about how the letter would impact DFPS policy.

“That same day, and just mere hours later, [the child’s mother] was placed on leave from her employment because she has a transgender daughter with a medical need for treatment of gender dysphoria,” the lawsuit explained.

The lawsuit also said a DFPS Child Protective Services investigator interviewed the family and sought the teenager’s medical records, but the family refused to turn anything over to authorities.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a letter on February 22 saying the state would “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances” of Texas children receiving gender-affirming care. Abbott further said the policy would require “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children” receiving the care, “including doctors, nurses, and teachers,” to report it or face criminal penalties.

The directive came after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion laying the groundwork for the state’s political attack on trans youth.

The lawsuit, which aims to block the directive, charges Abbott of overstepping his legal authority in violation of state law and the constitution. The state is also depriving the constitutional rights of the defendants, the suit claims.

Emmett Schelling, the executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas, slammed Abbott and Paxton, accusing both of them of using trans kids for political gain ahead of the March 1 primary election. Abbott and Paxton are facing primary challenges from the right.

“Our youth, our communities, will not be used as political props,” Schelling said in a written statement. “We will not allow for these continued efforts to restrict access to life-saving care and criminalize families based on patently false information. To Attorney General Paxton and Governor Abbott, we will not continue to play a sadistic role in your political theater.”

Notably, Texas lawmakers failed to pass legislation last year that would have classified supportive care for trans youth as child abuse.

The policy flies in the face of medical experts — from the American Medical Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics — who have widely supported gender-affirming care for youth. It is not clear how long such a directive would hold up in court — though advocates hope a ruling is imminent. Multiple district attorneys in Texas have vowed to ignore the directive, including Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee, who represents Houston.

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, said “these attacks are not new” in light of the nationwide legislative assault on trans kids across multiple states.

“Trans youth need you to take the fury you have over what’s happening in Texas and share it with lawmakers in every state that is trying to make it harder for trans youth to survive,” Strango said.

Lambda Legal senior counsel Paul Castillo also tore into Abbott and Paxton, saying they are showing “no consideration of medical science and seem determine to criminalize parents seeking to care and provide for their kids, and medical professionals abiding by accepted standards of care for transgender youth.”

Last year, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, but a federal judge temporarily blocked that law.