‘It’s Creating a Witch Hunt.’ How Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Anti-Trans Directive Hurts LGBTQ Youth

Lisa Stanton was looking at her phone Wednesday morning when she saw this, she felt like she’d been “physically punched.”

One day earlier, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued the following: Let me know directing the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to conduct “prompt and thorough” investigations into the families of trans and gender expansive youth who’ve received gender-affirming care, asserting that the care can “legally constitute child abuse.”

Stanton’s family has long spoken out about Maya, their transgender 11-year old daughter. In 2021, Maya testified against legislation in Washington that would criminalize gender-affirming healthcare. And when Stanton opened her phone Wednesday morning, she saw a wall of social media messages from strangers saying they’d already reported her to Protective Services.
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“I know I’m a good parent,” says Stanton, who lives in Houston. “My child is happy and healthy and thriving, and I know that what I’m doing is right for her.” Yet the messages still terrified her.

“It’s creating a witch hunt environment, ” she says. “This further ostracizes families like ours.”

Continue reading: Trans youth are being hounded more often by pediatricians. The Line Could Provide Lifesaving Care

In his letter, the Governor also called on “licensed professionals” and “members of the general public” to report the parents of trans youth to state authorities if it appeared they’d received gender-affirming care. This letter was sent a day following the release of an opinion by Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, stating that certain elements of gender affirming care are child abuse.

Gender-affirming care models—which can include treatments that Help align a person’s sex characteristics with their gender identity—are supported by all relevant major medical organizations, including the American Medical AssociationIt is the American Academy of PediatricsThe American Psychological Association. Trans and gender expansive children cannot receive affirming medical treatment without their parent’s or guardian’s consent in the U.S. healthcare system, and an Emerging body of researchResearch has shown that young adults with mental disorders can be less likely to seek affirming care.

It’s unclear what the Governor’s directive will practically look like. A Tuesday tweet, he said that DFPS will “enforce this ruling and investigate and refer for prosecution” instances of minors receiving affirming care. DFPS told TIME on Wednesday that it would comply with the Governor’s directive.However, five Texas district attorneys, including the DAs of Dallas County and Houston’s Travis County, issued a statement Wednesday night condemning Abbott’s directive and saying they plan to “enforce the Constitution” and not “irrationally and unjustifiably interfere with medical decisions between children, their parents, and their medical physicians.”

The White House also spoke out against the Governor’s announcement Wednesday morning in a statement to the Dallas Morning News. “Conservative officials in Texas and other states across the country should stop inserting themselves into health care decisions that create needless tension between pediatricians and their patients,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, deputy White House principal press secretary.

Gov. Abbott did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), tells TIME that the Attorney General’s opinion and the Governor’s directive to DFPS have no binding legal effect. The Attorney General’s opinion is an interpretation of existing law, but the state’s standards for child abuse investigations itself has not changed, Strangio says. A family law standard does not require that an investigation be started.

“It’s egregious. It’s harmful. It’s political posturing. But it doesn’t change anything as a matter of law,” Strangio says.

Even still, LGBTQ advocates have decried the Governor and Attorney General’s announcements as a dangerous attempts to rally the GOP base ahead of Texas’ midterm primary elections on March 1. Abbott and Paxton both are up for reelection in competitive races. Austin Davis Ruiz, communications director for the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, says he thinks a “focal point” of Texas’ 2022 midterms will be LGBTQ rights.

TIME spoke with Lisa Stanton, who said she felt like her family was being used to make political points. “While this might seem like a smart political maneuver to shore up the voter base, there are real consequences and real harm that’s already been done as a result,” she says.

Continue reading: Research shows that Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy can Save Lives for LGBTQ Youth

Ruiz says the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus has seen a “coordinated assault on trans youth” from state leadership over the past year. Last year, the state legislature failed in its attempt to pass a bill which would have criminalized certain elements of gender affirming care. However, a October law was passed that bans K-12 students from joining sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Texas falls within a wider trend to increase scrutiny of trans and gender inclusive youth in America. In 2021 alone, over 130 anti-trans bills were introduced into state legislatures, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, including 35 bills that would criminalize gender-affirming care (Arkansas’ ban was signed into law but blocked by a federal judge.) Since February 11, 2018, the ACLU has been tracking. Similar billsProhibiting affirming care in at most 17 states’ legislatures for this year.

Advocates say Abbott’s directive to DFPS could have deadly consequences. A peer-reviewed StudyPublished in Journal of Adolescent Health Researchers at The Trevor Project, a LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, found that gender-affirming hormonal therapy (GAHT), is associated with lower suicide rates among youth who are transgender or nonbinary. A study found that GAHT had nearly 40 percent lower chances of youth transgender and nonbinary persons under 18 attempting suicide in the last year.

The national PollJanuary 10, 2019, Trevor Project. 85% of those surveyed by trans and nonbinary youth between September 14 and November 5, 2021, stated that recent discussions about state laws restricting rights for trans people had negatively affected their mental health.

“Our state has made it more clear that they’d rather see dead kids than trans kids alive and well,” argues Emmett Schelling, the executive director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT).

Continue reading: America’s Foster Care System Is a Dangerous Place for Trans Teens. Now They’re Fighting for Change

Lisa Stanton says she’s now barely sleeping. Her bed is a place where she can turn over many possibilities. “What if someone calls CPS and we didn’t get an agent that’s [gender]They affirm and make recommendations that [Maya should] be removed from our home during the investigation?” she says. While Stanton feels strongly that an investigation would go nowhere, the process would still be “extremely traumatizing” for her daughter and family.

After she received the barrage of messages Wednesday morning, Stanton started reorganizing Maya’s “safe folder”—a folder of her daughter’s medical history that includes affirming letters from her doctor, family and friends to show a DFPS agent if they come to her door.

“[I can’t believe] I have to have a folder with this type of documentation,” she says. “I’m listening to the advice of doctors, yet I’m being told by politicians that what I am doing is wrong.”

Stanton hasn’t lost hope, though. On Wednesday, Stanton received an avalanche of messages from her friends and family expressing solidarity with her family. It helped her feel less isolated, she says. She continues to say that people must do much more than send support messages. “Write letters, campaign and vote,” she says. “Do everything in your power to make sure people like this aren’t elected again.”

When Stanton’s husband saw the news of Abbott’s announcement, the first thing he did was step out of the office for a moment and cry, he tells TIME. The second was to walk to an early voting station and vote.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME (741741) to access the Crisis Text Line. For emergency situations, dial 911 or go to a hospital.


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