Pictured: Adam and Amber Briggle with their son Max
Another lawsuit has been filed in hopes of stopping the investigations of transgender-supportive families in Texas.
Adam and Amber Briggle, parents of a trans son, two other families identified by pseudonyms, and PFLAG filed the suit Wednesday in the District Court of Travis County, Texas. The pseudonymous families include one in which a trans teen attempted suicide as a result of Gov. Greg Abbott ordering the investigations. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and its Texas affiliate, Lambda Legal, and the Texas-based law firm Baker Botts LLP.
The plaintiffs seek to block any probes of their families, PFLAG families, and others under Abbott's order that characterized gender-affirming health care as child abuse and directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who allowed their children to receive such care. They also seek to have the order declared invalid, saying it violates Texas law and the state's constitution. The suit names Abbott as a defendant, along with the DFPS and its commissioner, Jaime Masters.
"Defendants have trampled on the constitutional and statutory rights of transgender children and their parents," the lawsuit states. "The Defendants have, without constitutional or statutory authority, acted to create a new definition of 'child abuse' that singles out a subset of loving parents for scrutiny, investigation, and potential family separation. Their actions have caused terror and anxiety among transgender youth and their families across the Lone Star State and singled out transgender youth and their families for discrimination and harassment. What is more, the Governor's and Commissioner's actions threaten to endanger the health and well-being of transgender youth in Texas by depriving them of medically necessary care, while communicating that transgender people and their families are not welcome in Texas."
Abbott issued the order in February based on a nonbinding legal opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Both Abbott and Paxton are far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans. The opinion and the order came after the state legislature failed to pass a bill classifying gender-affirming care as child abuse. Medical experts have criticized the opinion as unscientific and politically biased.
The day the order was issued, a trans teen whose mother is one of the plaintiffs in the suit attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of aspirin, the suit states. The teen, identified by the pseudonym Antonio Voe, said his attempt was motivated by the political environment, including Abbott's directive, and by being misgendered at school. He received psychiatric treatment, but staff at the facility where he received the care warned his mother that she might be investigated for child abuse, and indeed, they reported her to DFPS. A DFPS investigator came to her house and told her she was an "alleged perpetrator" of child abuse.
The investigation remains open, and it has "devastated" Antonio's life, according to the suit. "He has been forced to drop out of in-person school and stay at home so that Mirabel [his mother] can more closely monitor his health and wellbeing, but she is a single mom who works two jobs," the suit says. "Mirabel loves her son unconditionally, and she can think of nothing worse than losing him." He could be removed from her custody if there is a finding of child abuse.
Another suit was filed to stop the investigations in March. A Texas judge ordered that the investigations cease while the suit is pending, and her ruling was upheld on appeal. But then the Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the appeals court had overstepped its bounds. However, the high court also held that Abbott did not have the authority to set DFPS policy -- the governor could offer opinions and advice, but the decision about what to investigate was up to DFPS officials. Nevertheless, DFPS has resumed the probes.
"Notwithstanding the clear language in the recent Texas Supreme Court ruling that Attorney General Paxton and Gov. Abbott do not have the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate loving families who are providing medically necessary care for their transgender child as child abuse, the agency seems determined to target these families and threaten to tear them apart," Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Paul D. Castillo said in a press release. "With [Wednesday's] filing, we are joining with PFLAG in working to protect all Texas families who simply want to make sure their children are safe, happy, and healthy. It is unconscionable that the state wants to interfere in that relationship."
"For nearly 50 years, PFLAG parents have united against government efforts to harm their LGBTQ+ kids," added Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National. "By going after trans kids and their families, Gov. Abbott has picked a fight with thousands of families in Texas and across the country who are united as members of PFLAG National. Loving and affirming your child and empowering them to be themselves is the highest calling of any parent, no matter your child's gender. If it takes a court ruling to ensure that the law protects families who lead with love in support of transgender Texans, so be it."
"It is indefensible for any state leader to repeatedly attack trans Texans and weaponize the child welfare system against the loving families of transgender kids and teens," said Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas. "We will continue to fight against these baseless attacks on our community. Transgender kids deserve to have lifesaving gender-affirming care in Texas so that they might live safely and grow up to be transgender adults. During this Pride Month, we must take a stand against government leaders that are hellbent on stoking fear and trying to criminalize transgender young people and their families."