While conservatives have fanned faux hysteria about trans girls participating in girls’ sports teams, they’ve gotten a distressing amount of people on board for anti-trans rhetoric. Normalizing exclusion, discrimination, and “othering” always leads us down a progressively more insidious path. Take, for example, the direction from Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for state agencies to investigate instances of providing or pursuing gender-affirming health care for trans youth (such as puberty blockers) as child abuse, as reported by local outlet KXAN. In this directive, Abbott cites an opinion from a Republican attorney general in the state. An opinion is not legally binding—it is an interpretation of existing law. That said, it’s still deeply concerning.
Gender-affirming care is, of course, lifesaving care. It is safe, age-appropriate, and has been an area of professional medical expertise long outside of this subject exploding in mainstream media. Minors are not waltzing into hospitals and getting prescriptions or surgeries on demand. Kindergarteners are not consenting to treatments they don’t understand as part of some liberal agenda. But those bizarre, unfounded scenarios are exactly what Republicans like Abbott want you to imagine while framing health care as abuse. With that in mind, let’s dig into the specifics of the directive.
Abbott’s letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services tells the agency that they must conduct “prompt” and “thorough” investigations into gender-affirming care for trans youth. Abbott references a Feb. 18 opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who suggests that health care like hormone therapy can “legally constitute" child abuse under “several provisions” of Texas state law.
“I’ll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans,” Paxton said in a news release about his opinion. It’s not about protection, mind you—it’s about keeping vulnerable youth in the closet, and getting the general public used to the idea that these lifesaving treatments are actually harmful.
It’s also about spreading misinformation, as evident in a recent tweet of Paxton’s.
No one is “chopping off” anyone’s genitals willy-nilly. These surgeries aren’t available to minors as a general practice. Gender-affirming care can be as simple (and uninvasive) as a physician recommending parents use the child’s correct pronoun. Yes: That counts. But could it now get a family reported to CPS? The wording is vague enough that we don’t know.
In his letter, Abbott says the agency is “responsible” for “protecting” children from abuse and added that licensed professionals who work with youth—like teachers, social workers, nurses, and physicians—must report child abuse and could face “criminal penalties” for failure to do so. What constitutes as gender-affirming care is unclear, which is concerning because it opens up investigations into anyone who is remotely gender nonconforming.
It’s also worrisome when it comes to reports driven by harassment. Did a transphobic person hear a rumor that someone is supporting their queer or trans child, even if it’s just emotional? Is that enough to fire off a report that would launch an investigation? What about multiple reports aimed at the same family or families? Bullying is bad enough from other kids, but this essentially opens up a way for adults to target families, too.
The result of all of this? Trans youth are going to avoid being honest with anyone—especially any adult—about their gender identity. Parents who want to be supportive are going to end up turning to secretive or out-of-state resources to get their children the care they need. Folks who have the means to do so may try to move to states with more inclusive policies and protections. Given that trans youth already live with higher rates of mental health issues, like anxiety and suicidal ideation, this situation is enormously stressful either way.
“If loving parents are following recommended medical care that they believe is in the best interest of their child,” the senior policy associate for child protection at Texans Care for Children, Kate Murphy, told the Dallas Morning News in an interview. “It’s hard to fathom why Texas would legally conclude that is child abuse.”
It’s hard to fathom because no one wants to believe people (and especially not grown adults) are capable of being quite so hateful and cruel—and frankly, quite so transparent about it.
Weaponizing’s one gender identity into a political rallying cry is abusive. So is trying to dismantle the shred of rights trans folks have fought hard to get. So is trying to block folks from lifesaving health care. So is isolating trans youth from their peers. But we already know Abbott is more than happy to do those things.
It’s also worth considering this situation in terms of abortion restrictions in the state. As Daily Kos covered, Republicans pushed SB 8, which was essentially permission to bounty hunt pregnant people who sought abortions. This anti-choice legislation would have also held responsible people who “aided” or “abetted” one seeking an abortion.
It’s the same idea: The state wants to control people’s bodies and offer incentives for people to do the dirty work of monitoring people for them. It’s divisive. It pits people against one another. It’s an effort to control and erase vulnerable people and at this point, it’s nothing if not transparent.
Sign the petition: Demand the Senate pass the Equality Act and protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.