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"Protect Trans Students" signs at protest

LGBTQ activists and their supporters rally in support of transgender people New York, New York on October 24, 2018. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Texas DAs Refuse to Comply With Abbott Order to Criminalize Care for Trans Kids

"Republican leadership of this state is trying to turn loving and supportive parents into criminals, and this office will play no part in it," said Travis County Attorney Delia Garza.

Julia Conley

Officials in at least two of Texas' largest counties have no plans to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott's order to investigate gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children, which the Republican state leader announced Tuesday.

"Among the many awful things about this is how it prevents families from speaking up because doing so could make them the target of an investigation."

In a letter to the state Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Abbott ordered officials to "conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances" of gender-affirming treatment including surgeries and the prescription of puberty-blocking medication, citing an opinion issued last week by Attorney General Ken Paxton which claimed such treatment is "child abuse."

Abbott said the department has a duty to investigate the parents of children who have gender-affirming treatments and noted that doctors, nurses, teachers, and "members of the general public" who don't report the treatment to authorities when they know a child has had gender-affirming care could be hit with "criminal penalties."

A DFPS spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News that officials will follow Paxton and Abbott's guidance, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee made clear in a statement Tuesday that his office "will not participate in these bad faith political games" and will not be prosecuting any healthcare professionals or families referred by the DFPS.

"Governor Abbott and General Paxton are ignoring medical professionals and intentionally misrepresenting the law to the detriment of transgender children and their families," Menefee said. "We'll continue to follow the laws on the books—not General Paxton's politically motivated and legally incorrect 'opinion.'"

Delia Garza, county attorney for Travis County, which includes Austin, told the Morning News that "Republican leadership of this state is trying to turn loving and supportive parents into criminals, and this office will play no part in it."

Abbott's latest attempt to criminalize support for transgender children in Texas comes six months after the governor originally told the DFPS that surgeries rarely used for minors—orchiectomies, hysterectomies, and mastectomies—constitute child abuse.

The governor's focus on gender-affirming treatment amounts to "a political attack and political stunt as a way to attack transgender kids" and stigmatize them, Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the Texas division of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Texas Tribune in August.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the use of gender-affirming care for children, citing a study in its first policy statement on the issue showing that transgender adolescents with unsupportive parents had suicide attempt rates as high as 60%, compared with 4% for young people with supportive families. The American Medical Association and American Psychological Association have also supported gender-affirming treatment.

Advocates for LGBTQ rights called Paxton and Abbott's guidance "unconscionable" and "ghoulish."

"The GOP needed a new group to demonize for culture war clout," said John Scott-Railton, a researcher with Citizen Lab. "Of course, they decided to aim for vulnerable kids."

Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), whose daughter is transgender, accused Abbott of staging a "political ploy to terrorize children and their parents."

"Trans children are not political props," she said.

In October, Abbott signed into law a bill banning transgender student athletes from playing on teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Republican-led state legislature attempted last year to pass a bill that would have made providing gender-affirming care a felony in the state.

Gillian Branstetter, press secretary for the National Women's Law Center, tweeted that the DFPS's plan to adhere to Paxton's opinion—which the attorney general partially based on research by the anti-trans Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine—could have dangerous implications for families across Texas who find themselves in any number of scenarios.

"Among the many awful things about this is how it prevents families from speaking up because doing so could make them the target of an investigation," Branstetter said.

"Transphobia is a powerful force in American politics, but young voters are leading a cultural shift towards inclusion."

A poll released by progressive think tank Data for Progress on Wednesday showed that while 48% of respondents believed laws preventing transgender children from participating in sports and getting gender-affirming healthcare, young Americans and Democratic voters were more likely to view such legislation as unfair and discriminatory.

Fifty-nine percent of Democrats disagreed with the legislation and guidance like those recently introduced in Texas and other states, and 56% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 opposed such restrictions.

Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of Republicans supported blocking transgender children from getting the care that medical experts say they need.

"Transphobia is a powerful force in American politics, but young voters are leading a cultural shift towards inclusion," wrote Erin Thomas of Data for Progress.

"The deluge of anti-transgender legislation making its way through state legislatures reveals an undeniable truth—transphobic politics are a key political strategy guiding the American right," Thomas added. "Democrats must be resolute and unwavering in our defense of transgender rights. If we fail to do so, we risk the unneeded suffering of an entire generation of transgender children."

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