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On the morning of Aug. 30, a 13-year-old transgender boy was pulled out of class by his school’s administrators, his mother says. While his classmates continued their studies, he sat in a conference room at a Texas middle school where a Department of Family and Protective Services investigator began asking personal questions, court records state.
The reason: The state agency was probing his family following a February directive from Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate the use of gender-affirming care in minors as child abuse, according to court documents.
The nearly hourlong interview touched on a range of personal topics — from the teen’s medical history to his gender dysphoria diagnosis to his suicide attempt years back, court records state. The interrogation left the boy — identified under the pseudonym Steve Koe — shaking and distressed, according to a signed declaration from his mother, named as Carol Koe.
The document, obtained by The Washington Post, is part of a cache of supplemental evidence filed late Wednesday as part of an ongoing lawsuit by LGBTQ advocates seeking to block investigations into families providing gender-affirming care to their transgender children.
The suit was filed in June by advocacy groups Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Texas-based law firm Baker Botts. Though three families are named as plaintiffs, it seeks protections for current and future members of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG in Texas.
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the newly filed documents, but the state has defended its investigations in court. In a briefing filed in May, it said that a judge’s ruling to temporarily suspend the probes “prevents a state agency from carrying out its statutory duty to investigate reported child abuse.”
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the state’s attorney general’s office also did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Post late Thursday.
In July, Judge Amy Clark Meachum granted an order halting probes into two of the three listed plaintiffs listed in the June lawsuit. However, she didn’t rule on a request to stop investigations for the third family or additional PFLAG members — instead asking attorneys to submit more evidence on how state agencies are handling the alleged child abuse cases.
That’s why the advocacy groups submitted Carol Koe’s declaration this week, along with another by a woman identified as Samantha Poe, whose 14-year-old child is “in midst of exploring what a social transition feels like.” Though Poe hasn’t provided her child with gender-affirming medical care, an ongoing abuse investigation against her was opened in February and has left her child with “suicidal ideations,” according to court documents.
On Aug. 25, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services requested either Poe’s consent for an interview with her child or proof that the child is “well-adjusted,” court documents state. Five days later, the agency launched its probe into Carol Koe. Both are signs that the agency is still complying with Abbott’s directive — even after state officials said in court that they would close the probes, Lambda Legal senior attorney Shelly Skeen told The Post.
“Instead of stopping the investigation or closing it, which is what DFPS was stating on the stand during our hearing that they were going to do, they’re in essence doing the opposite: laying eyes on one family and opening an investigation into another one,” she said.
Abbott’s directive has been widely criticized by advocacy groups, public officials and health associations.
The decision to investigate the parents of transgender minors stems from an opinion issued in February by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. In it, he said that providing certain gender-affirming medical treatments — such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy — could “legally constitute child abuse” under state law. Abbott then ordered state agencies to conduct probes in a directive that relies on ordinary Texans to report suspected cases.
But, Skeen argues that Abbott’s order “holds no legal weight” since an attorney general’s opinion “is not the law, is not binding in court and is not binding on state agents,” she said. “So part of our claim is that the governor was outside the bounds of his authority to tell agencies to act,” Skeen added.
The state, however, disagrees. In an August court briefing, it argued that Abbott couldn’t be sued because he “is not responsible for enforcing Texas’s prohibitions on child abuse.” Additionally, the state posited, opening an investigation didn’t inflict harm on families if there wasn’t “some resulting official action.”
The disputes have led to two separate lawsuits and court battles that have dragged on for most of the year — and will probably extend even longer, Skeen said.
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