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Families of Texas trans children fear child abuse investigations


PArents of transgender youth in Texas are stuck in limbo after a new statement released Thursday by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) suggested the Department will continue to investigate parents who may have provided care for gender affirmation to their children.

On May 13, the Texas Supreme Court narrowed a statewide injunction to halt DFPS investigations of a single family and doctor named as plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit, apparently unfreezing the at least eight other investigations. that were opened this year after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Department to investigate gender-affirming medical care as child abuse. But the court also ruled that neither Abbott nor Attorney General Ken Paxton had the authority to direct DFPS investigations, and left in place the lower court’s ruling that halted the plaintiffs’ investigation while noting that investigation would cause “irreparable harm”.

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision apparently left it up to the DFPS to pursue its other ongoing investigations of gender-affirming minors receiving health care. After a week of uncertainty, DFPS released a statement on Thursday stating, “DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the fullest extent permitted. by the law.

The vaguely worded statement is unclear whether the child abuse investigations will go ahead. But a source familiar with internal discussions at the governor’s office, the Texas attorney general’s office and the DFPS told TIME that the DFPS is taking over those investigations of families who are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Neither the governor’s office nor the attorney general’s office responded to TIME’s request for comment on resuming investigations.

The unclear status of investigations into the remaining abuses has left these families in fear of what may follow. “Since Friday, I’ve just been waiting for someone to knock on the door,” says Amber Briggle, mother of a 14-year-old trans son in North Texas, who tells TIME that she and her husband are doing the subject of a DFPS investigation that was initiated in response to the Governor’s direction. “It’s an emotional trauma that we’ll all carry with us, probably forever.” Briggle compares the adrenaline she’s felt in the past week since the Texas Supreme Court decision to the aftermath of a car crash.

Ian Pittman, a lawyer representing the Briggle family in their DFPS investigation, said they were reviewing their legal opinions. Pittman also represents another family under investigation who chooses to remain anonymous. “If the Department follows the law in Texas…it will close any active investigation and dismiss allegations of abuse and neglect,” Pittman said. But the source familiar with internal discussions at the governor’s office, Texas attorney general’s office and DFPS told TIME that the department has no plans to close those investigations.

“It would be pretty foolish for the DFPS to try to reopen or move these investigations forward when there is already a court order that what they are doing is likely illegal,” says ACLU attorney Brian Klosterboer. of Texas, which filed the lawsuit with Lambda Legal challenging the governor’s directive on behalf of the unnamed Doe family and a physician — investigations that remain halted by the lower court order. “And if they try to move forward with other investigations, any of these families could do the same as the Doe family, potentially take legal action,” he adds.

The ACLU of Texas lawsuit is currently pending before an appeals court which will review the lower court’s decision. It could take a long time for the dispute to be finally settled. In the meantime, families who are not protected by the injunction face uncertainty about whether investigations into them will resume as they seek care for their trans or gender expansive children.

Read more: Pediatricians caring for trans youth face growing harassment. Life-saving care could be at stake

Gender affirmation care can treat gender dysphoria, which is often described as the discomfort or distress that can occur when a person’s gender identity is incompatible with their assigned sex at birth. birth. This care may include medications that arrest the continued development of puberty inconsistent with a young person’s gender identity and the taking of gender-affirming hormones, such as testosterone or estradiol, when a young reaches adolescence. This treatment is supported by major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association, and an emerging body of research has found that affirming models of care can reduce problems. mental health in young people.

Before Abbott issued its directive in February, DFPS did not investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse. The Texas family code makes no mention of gender-affirming care, but bills were introduced in the last legislative session that would expand the legal definition of child abuse to include it. Arkansas, Arizona and Alabama have all passed laws prohibiting medical professionals from providing gender-affirming care to minors in the last 14 months.

“We dread the next session,” says Amber Briggle. “We just want to be left alone.” Her husband Adam compares the feeling at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, when the film’s protagonist, Luke Skywalker, rushes to escape the Death Star before it explodes. That’s how Adam says he feels about trying to get his trans son through high school before the state enacts more anti-trans laws.

Amber Briggle says President Joe Biden and other Democratic politicians she supports are not doing enough to protect families of trans children in Texas. And she is frustrated that the US Senate did not pass the Equality Act, which would expand legal protections against sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Parents like us are stuck fighting on their own, with mounting legal bills, with health care taken away from our children,” she says. “People need to be aware of this reality and make it a priority. Because we can’t do it alone.

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Write to Madeleine Carlisle at madeleine.carlisle@time.com.


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