A Texas judge Friday ordered a statewide halt to investigations of parents of transgender children under Gov. Greg Abbott's directive that claimed letting kids access gender-affirming care is child abuse.
It comes days after a Texas court denied the state’s appeal of a restraining order temporarily blocking the investigation of one set of parents who’ve allowed their transgender daughter to access gender-affirming care.
Texas Civil District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum last week granted the restraining order, which stopped this investigation, and after Friday's hearing in Austin to consider blocking Abbott’s directive statewide, she decided to do so, The New York Times reports.
She ruled that Abbott's order was not adopted properly and violated the Texas constitution, and that is could not be enforced while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts. He had ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate all parents who allow their kids to receive such care. He based his order on a nonbinding opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton. Both are far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans.
The family who sued, identified only as the Does, is one of several families who have been contacted by investigators since Abbott issued his directive in late February. The Does and a Houston psychologist who objects to Abbott’s order are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU, and Lambda Legal.
“We feel relieved and vindicated that the judge understood the magnitude and breadth of the harm that would have resulted if Texas’ child welfare agency — at the direction of the governor — were allowed to continue enforcing this lawless directive,” Paul Castillo, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said in a press release. “Parents who love their transgender children and work with healthcare providers to support and affirm their well-being should be celebrated, rather than investigated as criminals as the state sought to do here. We are grateful that the judge issued an order today preventing enforcement of these directives statewide against any family in Texas, and made clear that no one who counts as a mandatory reporter can be forced to turn in families for investigation simply for doing what is right for their child.”
“The court’s decisive ruling today brings some needed relief to trans youth in Texas but we cannot stop fighting,” added Brian Klosterboer, ACLU of Texas attorney. “Today’s witnesses — including a parent targeted by these attacks, experts on medical care, and a supervisor within Texas Child Protective Services — gave courageous and emotional testimony about the fear and harm caused by these unlawful actions. All trans young people deserve to live freely as their true selves.”
“The judge recognized the governor and DFPS’s actions for what they were — unauthorized and unconstitutional exercises of power that cause severe, immediate, and devastating harms to transgender youth and their families across Texas,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We are relieved for Texas families and will never stop fighting for trans justice.”
The Trevor Project, which assists LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, also applauded the judge's ruling. “The Trevor Project is relieved that the District Court of Travis County did the right thing and recognized the unlawfulness of the governor’s politically-motivated directive,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, said in a press release. “While we hope Texas families can rest easier tonight, this fight is not over. No loving parent or ethical doctor should live in fear of doing the right thing by the transgender or nonbinary youth they care for. We will keep fighting with a broad coalition of partners in Texas until the day these investigations are terminated for good, and every young person, no matter their gender identity, knows they are safe, supported, and loved just the way they are.”
CNN reported Thursday that the state was currently investigating nine cases related to the order. The DFPS has not confirmed that number.
An investigations supervisor with the agency, however, testified Friday that staffers were told to prioritize investigations of families with trans kids. Randa Mulanax said that DFPS workers were not given the option of designating such cases "priority none," meaning that there was most likely no abuse, and closing the investigations. "I've been told that directly," she said, according to the Times. She has decided to resign from the agency because she believes it no longer serves the best interests of children, she added.
Psychologist Megan Mooney, who treats trans children and is also a plaintiff in the Does' case, testified that Abbott's order has caused “outright panic” and “puts medical professionals I work with in a horrible position.” Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston has responded to the directive by restricting its care for trans youth.
Jane Doe, the mother in the lawsuit, testified while wearing a wig and glasses to hide her identity. A DFPS employee, she had said in a court filing that she felt “betrayed by my state and the agency for whom I work” and was "terrified" about the implications for her daughter's health.
Last week, President Joe Biden released a statement calling Abbott’s order “government overreach at its worst.”
“Like so many anti-transgender attacks proliferating in states across the country, the Governor’s actions callously threaten to harm children and their families just to score political points. These actions are terrifying many families in Texas and beyond. And they must stop,” Biden said.
In keeping with Biden's statement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a list of actions it will take to ensure youth in Texas and around the country would be able to access gender-affirming care.
And Friday, more than 60 major corporations, including Johnson & Johnson, Google, and Levi Strauss, launched an advertising campaign in Texas to protest Abbott's order. The campaign, asserting that “discrimination is bad for business.” includes digital ads and a full page in The Dallas Morning News.
Trudy Ring contributed reporting.