Families with transgender children across Texas received some much-needed relief this weekend, after a court ruled that the state’s Child Protective Services could no longer conduct investigations into whether gender-affirming care constitutes child abuse.
That relief lasted a few hours, until the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, opened his Twitter account later that night.
In a throwback to the previous presidential administration, two tweets undid the calm that families were granted from a district court decision that halted CPS from investigating families trying to support their children.
“It was so cruel to have just a couple of hours of micro-‘relief’ and then be immediately thrust back into that fear and uncertainty,” Katie L., the mother of a transmasculine nonbinary teenage son from the Houston area, told HuffPost.
“We are exhausted after fighting hard, feeling like we had some small ‘wins’ and then immediately getting kicked in the face by politicians with agendas,” she said.
Paxton released a nonbinding legal opinion on Feb. 21 that said doctors who prescribe puberty-blocking drugs, or perform gender confirmation surgeries for transgender minors, are engaging in “child abuse.”
“The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has a responsibility to act accordingly,” Paxton said in a statement. “I’ll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans.”
In reality, gender confirmation surgeries are almost never performed on transgender minors in the United States. Puberty blockers are drugs prescribed to trans kids to delay the onset of puberty, so as to give children more time to determine the best path for their transition. The drugs are reversible, and they’re also prescribed regularly to cisgender children who begin to go through puberty early.
On Feb. 22, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to begin investigating families that were supposedly putting transgender minors at risk.
Groups such as the American Medical Association have spoken out against states that have sought to block the administration of affirming health care practice like puberty blockers. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra expressed similar views earlier this month, calling Abbott’s order “discriminatory and unconscionable” and “clearly dangerous to the health of transgender youth in Texas.”
Soon after, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and Equality Texas went to court to halt the order. First, a judge stopped an investigation into the family of a DFPS worker with a transgender child. Then, on March 11, the same judge issued an injunction halting Abbott’s order pending a full trial.
That night, Paxton announced on Twitter that he was appealing the decision. Once the appeal was filed, he claimed that “thankfully, [the] Democrat judge’s order permitting child abuse is frozen.” He also claimed that investigations will proceed and that he expects the appeal to go to the Texas Supreme Court.
It’s not exactly clear what Paxton’s tweet means. Requests for comment from the attorney general’s office, to confirm whether the injunction is halted, went unreturned.
Marissa Gonzales, a spokesperson for DFPS, told HuffPost that “the best way to describe our posture on these investigations is that we are continuing to follow the law.” Gonzales confirmed that there were nine open investigations into families with transgender children.
When asked to clarify what “continuing to follow the law” meant, Gonzales said: “What I’ve given you is as much as I can share at this point. You’re aware of the ongoing litigation.”
A Terrifying Knock On The Door
Before a court halted investigations, Child Protective Services began showing up unannounced to families around Texas.
“I was shocked,” Lauren Rodriguez, the mother of a transgender son in college, told HuffPost. “That’s what I said. I was like, ‘I don’t know why you’re here. My son is 18.’”
She’d been going about her day, she said, before it was upended by a CPS agent at her door, claiming that they had a mandate to investigate her son’s treatment before he turned 18. Rodriguez described the claim as a “blatant lie.”
She knew how to handle the situation, telling the agent that her attorney would be contacting her. But she worries that other families in that position might get overwhelmed and not know their rights. It took a tremendous amount of effort to get the agent to leave that day, Rodriguez said.
“I was shaking,” she said. “I was just so furious.”
The Rodriguez family is no stranger to CPS attention, having been visited nine times since Lauren’s son began transitioning at a previous address. The family moved to the Austin area, and were able to avoid being reported on by unsupportive community members ― until Abbott’s declaration.
“It is so violating to have somebody come to your home and basically accuse you of being a child abuser,” Rodriguez said. “What they’re doing is terrifying families, saying CPS is going to come march into their house and question everything they do. Because they don’t just ask about gender-affirming care.”
“Our carefully planned course of treatment with a trusted and curated medical team is being derailed.”
Most families under investigation have been reluctant to talk to the media, given the ever-changing situation and the fear that any statements could be used against them by CPS.
Amber Briggle, an outspoken mother of a transgender son in Texas, described the most recent visit the family received from CPS on her personal website. She declined to comment further, saying her family was “too emotionally wrecked” from the experience.
“When we were notified of the allegations, it was as if the wind had been knocked out of us,” Briggle wrote on her website in a March 8 post. “We wanted to scream and cry, but we had no air. The room was spinning. Raising a transgender child in Texas has been one long political emergency. It always seemed like this day would come. Now it has arrived.”
“We are privileged to have the support system to speak out publicly,” she noted elsewhere in the post. “Many families do not have this, and going public with their story could put their family at greater risk. But our family has been speaking out for years ― begging and pleading for your help.”
Fear Permeates Daily Life
For those families who have not gotten the dreaded knock on the door, preparing for the possibility of an investigation has added a heightened level of anxiety to an already stressful existence in Texas.
Last year during the state’s legislative session, multiple pieces of anti-transgender legislation were proposed. Eventually, the state passed a bill that bars transgender students from playing on the sports team that matches their gender identity.
With these attacks, families now have to be hypervigilant about the threat of CPS beginning an investigation. Bekah Bryant, the mother of a transgender daughter in the Houston area, said she has gone out of her way to find a lawyer willing to work pro bono who handles CPS cases.
To prepare her kids, Bryant has had to talk with them about where CPS agents could approach them, including at school. She has given them laminated cards with the contact information for her lawyer, to carry on them at all times. When her young son told Bryant that he brought the card to the playground just in case, she broke down, realizing the gravity of the situation they were in.
When the injunction halting all investigations was granted, Bryant said her family allowed themselves a brief moment of celebration amid all the chaos. Then, Paxton went on Twitter.
“We know that the way the governor operates is that the law doesn’t apply to them, so we might be back at square one,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s family is proudly from Texas, going back generations. But for the first time, they are considering whether they are going to have to leave the state to ensure their children can grow up in an affirming, healthy environment.
“If we stay, we’re looking at the 2023 legislative session, and they’re predicting it’s going to be the cruelest ever” for trans people, she said. “I mean, the thought that somebody at any moment is going to come knock on our door…”
For other families, the risk of being investigated by CPS is not the only thing on their minds. Hospitals are already starting to suspend their gender-affirming care services. Katie L.’s family uses Texas Children’s Hospital, which has said it is no longer providing such care. This means their son has had his gender-affirming care “paused indefinitely.”
This has led to extreme emotional distress for Katie’s son N., leaving him beside himself. The family asked that N.’s full name not appear in this article.
“Our carefully planned course of treatment with a trusted and curated medical team is being derailed,” Katie said. “Thankfully we’re keeping the self-harm under control currently, but we’re using every tool we’ve got to keep it that way.”
Katie describes the situation as “ambient horror” that doesn’t abate, leaving the family in a constant state of fear. But even amid the attacks on their well-being, she said they will not cower to politicians who want them to “live in the shadows.”
Given that these attacks came out around the recent Texas primary elections, it is not lost on Katie that the general election this November could see even more vicious attacks on transgender and nonbinary children to drive voter turnout.
“My son has been exceptionally emotionally delicate ― more panic attacks, exceptional difficulties focusing on his studies, lots of tumultuous emotional peaks and valleys ― and, sadly, some feelings of guilt that we are going through this ‘because of him,’” Katie told HuffPost in an email. “And as a mom, my heart shatters daily about this.”
“What in the world will happen leading up to November?” she added. “What nasty little tricks will come out to further put our CHILDREN in jeopardy? I’m not sure it’s safe to stick around and find out anymore.”