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The state of Texas is investigating a family for child abuse after the parents obtained gender-affirming care for their 16-year-old transgender daughter. It’s believed to be among the first of these probes since the governor directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to target such care a week ago.
The child’s mother — a DFPS employee who reviews cases of abuse and neglect — has been placed on leave after asking for clarification from her supervisor about the recent executive branch orders.
The investigation came to light on Tuesday — the day of the Texas primary elections — in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed in Austin on the family’s behalf to block investigations of families seeking such medical care for their children.
The suit names both Gov. Greg Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services as defendants.
“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “A week before an election, Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a partisan political attack that isn’t rooted in the needs of families, the evidence from doctors and the expertise from child welfare professionals.”
The action is the first legal challenge in response to Abbott’s directive last week to child welfare officials to investigate parents of transgender children for child abuse. The order came within days after an opinion issued by Paxton, which classified certain types of gender-affirming care as child abuse.
Paxton’s opinion includes body modification surgeries that are rarely, if ever, performed on children. He also mentions puberty blockers that are reversible and are widely accepted by health experts. Studies show the model of gender-affirming care has had a significant improvement on the mental well-being of transgender children.
Last week, the agency confirmed that three reports of transgender children receiving gender-affirming care were made through the child abuse reporting system. On Tuesday, the agency declined further comment other than to say it was aware of the ACLU suit. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.
The teenager’s family is not named. The lawsuit instead refers to the parents as Jane and John Doe and the daughter as Mary Doe. When an investigator visited the family’s home last Friday, they interviewed the parents and the child, the lawsuit states. The family has so far refused to hand over the girl’s medical records to the agency.
If the agency determines the family has committed child abuse, the parents would be placed on a child abuse registry and the mother could be fired, according to the suit.
The mother said in the lawsuit that she and her husband have “been unable to sleep, worrying about what they can do and how they can keep their family intact and their daughter safe and healthy.”
Houston-based clinical psychologist Megan Mooney is also named as a plaintiff. Mooney is now required by state law to report her clients receiving gender-affirming care, but she stated in the suit that complying with the governor's directive raised ethical concerns.
The medical community and even the White House have criticized the state’s actions.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told The Dallas Morning News a week ago that it was dangerous to label care for transgender children as abuse.
“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,” Jean-Pierre said. “No parent should face the agony of a politician standing in the way of accessing life-saving care for their child.”
At the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, a group of more than 100 people protested Abbott and Paxton’s directives that target families of transgender youth. One who attended was Alisa Miller, 55, San Antonio, who has a daughter who is the beneficiary of gender-affirming treatment.
“She’s now a happy, healthy college student,” Miller said. Referring to Abbott and Paxton, she added, “They wouldn’t want someone to target their children like this, so why are they targeting our children?”
Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.
Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.