Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are teaming up for what appears to be an effort to force families with trans youth to move out of the state. Abbott in a letter on Tuesday directed state agencies to investigate the use of gender-affirming care for trans children, citing an opinion Paxton issued days earlier holding that such care “can legally constitute child abuse under several provisions” of Texas law.
Abbott’s letter, addressed to the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, calls for a “prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures,” referring to gender-affirming care, which includes procedures as well as the use of hormones like estrogen or testosterone. Abbott notes that any doctors, nurses, and teachers who fail to report the use of such care are subject to criminal penalties, as are parents of trans children who receive care.
“There are similar reporting requirements and criminal penalties for members of the general public,” Abbott added.
Advocates have been quick to bash Abbott’s directive. “Loving and supporting trans youth is NOT abuse!” the National Center for Transgender Equality tweeted on Wednesday. “This is an attack on our dignity. This is an attack on all trans people.”
“This is horrific,” added Human Right Campaign President Joni Matison. “Gender-affirming care can be lifesaving for transgender youth. This discriminatory, dangerous & divisive action will have real-life consequences for trans kids & their families in Texas.”
“Governor Abbott’s directive is not legally binding, nor does it change the constitutional rights of trans youth and families,” Shelby Chestnut, Director of Policy and Programs at the Transgender Law Center, told Rolling Stone in an email. “The situation is unfolding, and we will know more soon on how this will or will not be enforced. However, this is a political move and an extreme fear mongering tactic that will have real consequences on the lives of trans youth, their families, and supportive professionals in Texas. Parents and guardians who are rightfully afraid and unsure of what to do should know that loving their children and allowing them to live authentically is not child endangerment — it is a love, understanding, and trust that youth know what they need.”
Abbott’s letter on Tuesday is part of a strengthening wave of anti-trans action from conservative lawmakers across the country. The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill mandating that K-12 public school students use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. “All you are doing is demonizing an already vulnerable population,” Democratic Rep. Neil Rafferty said during debate on the bill, which passed overwhelmingly. “It’s all under the guise of protecting children just to win cheap political points. That’s all it is.”
The bill now moves to the Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans, and then, potentially to the desk of Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who last year signed a bill blocking trans girls from playing on female sports teams. Abbott signed a similar bill into law last October, making Texas the 10th state to enact a law or executive order against trans girls playing on female sports teams. South Dakota became the 11th in February. South Dakota is also one of multiple states to introduce “bathroom bills” this year.
Bills limiting trans people’s ability to use public restrooms and trans girls from playing female sports have been have been popular among conservative legislatures for years, but Abbott’s move to criminalize gender-affirming care is the latest signal of the Republican Party’s drive to take their persecution up a notch. Texas isn’t alone, either. Arkansas last year passed multiple anti-trans bills, including one that banned gender-affirming care for trans youth. Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed legislation preventing trans girls from competing in female sports, and another allowing medical providers to refuse to treat trans patients if they believe it violates their religious beliefs.
Hutchinson did, however, veto the bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth. “I am hopeful … that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting,” Hutchinson said of the veto.
The state legislature voted to override Hutchinson’s veto the next day.