What life is like for trans youth in Texas after Abbott’s calls to investigate gender-affirming care

It’s been eight months since Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the families of trans youth for providing gender-affirming care. Since then, some families have left the state. Those that stayed have weathered anxiety and the dizzying back-and-forth of legal battles to determine whether investigations will stop.

By Elena Rivera, KERAOctober 10, 2022 10:00 am, ,

From KERA:

For resources and support, call Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860, The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Corbin, who’s from North Texas, doesn’t feel safe in the state.

“Multiple times I’ve been trying to bring up leaving in any way I can,” he said. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Corbin said the concept of moving out of Texas went from something he never really talked about to something he brings up a lot. We’re not using his or anyone else’s full names in the story because they feel unsafe given the current climate for trans youth and their families.

Eric, Corbin’s dad, said his son has put serious thought into leaving Texas.

“He’s even come to us with plans of possibly going out of country to claim asylum, because this whole situation has scared him that much,” he said.

Eric and Corbin aren’t the only ones having these conversations. Families with trans youth have been wrestling with leaving the state since Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate families providing gender-affirming healthcare for their kids in February.

Matthew Barakat / AP

Students across the country in states like Florida and Virginia (pictured) are protesting state policies affecting trans youth. Here, students at McLean High School in McLean, Va., walk out of classes Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 in response to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's proposed changes to the state's guidance on district policies for trans students.

Parents say investigations are a play “for votes”

This directive stemmed from the 2021 legislative session, where similarly-worded bills failed to pass, and an August letter from Gov. Abbott to Department Commissioner Jaime Masters, inquiring on whether gender-affirming care was considered child abuse under Texas Family Code.

As a parent, Eric said these actions by Texas leaders aren’t about caring for children, but rather amount to political maneuvering in a contentious election year. Texas Republicans have made anti-LGBTQ policies a more prevalent part of their platform in the past year; both Gov. Abbott and Paxton are up for reelection in November.

“This is really about their beliefs, their fears, and their emotional attachment to gender, rather than any kind of science whatsoever,” Eric said. “And to me, when a government starts putting feelings above facts and science, that becomes dangerous.”

Frederick, another parent of a trans teenager in North Texas, said he thinks the politicians don’t speak for the rest of the state.

“I think they’re bigoted,” he said. “I think they’re narrow-minded. I think they’re cynical. And I think they’re just playing this for votes. Some of them may be true believers in their bigotry and others are just cynical opportunists.”

Gender-affirming care targeted by Texas leaders

Multiple healthcare organizations across the country rallied together to underline the importance of gender-affirming care since it became targeted by the state. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS) published a letter in February stating that taking away access to affirming care “directly threaten[s] the health and well-being of transgender youth.”

A statement by the American Psychological Association (APA) said the directive “will put at-risk children at even higher risk of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide.”

During this time, Corbin said he was scared to go to the doctor, even for routine visits.

“I did not even try to correct them on my name or anything because I was just terrified that they would report me and so, didn’t feel great for a while,” he said.

William, another teenager who’s also from North Texas, said he doesn’t think the state can legally stop people from accessing gender-affirming care.

“I think they’re relying a lot on like, the scare factor, instead of the actual effect of what they’re doing,” he said. “Is my getting testosterone and surgeries and stuff actually going to affect their lives? This isn’t done on a whim.”

William said receiving care has been lifesaving for him.

“Before you transition, it can be easy to doubt yourself and think that you’re crazy, but when someone can inform you about this stuff it makes it a lot easier,” he said.

Ryanzo W. Perez / Shutterstock

Eric, the father of a trans teenager in North Texas, said every trans young person deserves the space to grow up. "They're asking for respect," he said. "I don't think that it is in any way, shape, or form unreasonable to ask for respect."

Texas state investigators report families of trans youth

Because the directive deals with minors and the Department of Family and Protective Services, that meant that mandated reporters, like teachers, physicians and psychologists, could be compelled to report families to the state. It’s what actually happened to the Voe family in the PFLAG v. Abbott case that was filed in June.

In case documents, mother Mirabel Voe discussed her son’s emotional distress over Abbott’s letter in February. He was eventually hospitalized and then transferred to an outpatient location for mental health treatment. When there, staff at the facility found out the teenager was receiving medical hormone therapy.

Less than a week after he was discharged, someone from Child Protective Services came to the Voe’s home to investigate Mirabel for “allegedly providing her son with treatment for gender dysphoria.” The investigations “devastated [her son’s] life,” and the family is scared that they’ll be separated by this directive.

Guidance for social workers and other mandated reporters was unclear, and months later families with trans youth are still being investigated even though the directive is not a Texas law. In close to 930 pages of emails released through an open records request, the department navigated questions about the change, urging staff to avoid writing down information about the directive or any families being investigated in emails.

In an email from Feb. 24, 2022, a staff member from Donna ISD in southern Texas asked if the department could provide guidance on what the directive meant. One employee, forwarding the email to their supervisor, wrote: “This is Texas now? Because this is BS. Sorry not sorry. Really??? So, who do I refer them to and is this really what we are doing now?”

Where do trans youth in Texas stand now?

The future for trans youth and their families in Texas is murky. The most recent lawsuit, PFLAG v. Abbott, is currently cycling through the courts. It will decide whether investigations can continue into three families and people belonging to the national LGBTQ+ advocacy organization PFLAG, which has 17 chapters across the state. People who don’t belong to PFLAG can still be investigated. A court date to settle the matter for good isn’t slated until June 2023.

Despite everything, North Texas parent Frederick said there are still reasons to be hopeful.

“Progress seems inevitable,” he said. “There’ll be some squealing and opposition here and there, but it’s not going to stop anything. I guess I’m an optimist really, when it comes to all this stuff.”

Corbin and his dad Eric hope people understand what’s at stake for trans youth.

“Most of us literally just want to dress different, go by a different name,” said Corbin. “We already have enough problem with that, we don’t need danger in the mix.”

He said he’s encouraged by friends he made online, both in Texas and other states, who are supportive and understand what he’s going through.

“We just want to live, man,” he said. “We’re not we’re not harming anyone by living.”

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