Earlier this year, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate instances of “child abuse” in families who’ve provided gender-affirming care for their trans children, people were rightly, extremely alarmed. Not only is gender-affirming care not child abuse, the lack of it is actually associated with risks of depression and suicide in trans children and teens. LGBTQ advocacy groups, public health experts, and health associations feared this bigoted and authoritarian directive would harm trans youth. They were right.
On Friday morning, the Washington Post published a story about a trans eighth grader in Texas, Steve Koe (a pseudonym), who was pulled out of class and questioned by the agency. His mother says he was “shaking and distressed;” she observed Steve go from “thriving” after his gender-affirming treatment to being “anxiety ridden” and suffering from frequent panic attacks after being investigated by the state. For nearly an hour the agency reportedly asked Steve personal questions about his medical history, his gender dysphoria, and his suicide attempt. While all of this was going on, Steve’s classmates got to go about their normal, uninterrupted school day.
Middle school is traumatizing enough, even without being pulled out of class by government officials who want to question you about your private parts. Abbott’s directive is leaving an emotional scar on trans youth who’ve made the brave choice to pursue life as their true selves.
Koe’s mother, along with four other families, are part of an ongoing lawsuit, filed in June, by Lambda Legal and the ACLU against the state for Abbott’s invasive directive. In July, a Texas judge granted an order to stop the investigations of two of the three original families (not including Koe’s), but not the third. The judge asked for more evidence from attorneys on how these investigations harm trans children.
“Samantha Poe,” another mother of a child who was “exploring what a social transition feels like,” said DFPS’s investigation into her child’s well-being left them with suicidal ideations. To show she isn’t harming her child, she’s being asked by the agency to now prove that her child is well-adjusted. And to show that these triggering investigations aren’t harmful, the state is simply continuing them, just to make sure. It all creates a dangerous feedback loop that leave trans youth, who are on their way to settling into a comfortable version of themselves, shattered, vulnerable, and emotionally scarred. It’s ironically tragic that these young trans people who were lucky enough to have supportive families are being punished for just that.
Abbott issued his directive after an opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that puberty blockers or gender reassignment surgery can “legally constitute child abuse” under Texas law. While Paxton’s statement has no legal bearing, and some state attorneys and agencies have made a point that they will not follow the order, many still clearly have. The grey legal status of the directive has protected Abbott from being sued, because he “is not responsible for enforcing Texas’ prohibitions on child abuse,” a court ruled in August.
While Texas DFPS didn’t respond to WaPo’s request for comment, the state has previously argued that the investigations themselves aren’t harmful if no harm is being inflicted on these kids in the first place by their families. It’s an incredibly naive and ignorant way to understand how trauma is perpetuated.
Koe told the Post that she worries “other parents will hesitate to seek out the care and support their transgender child may need out of fear someone will report them to DFPS.” Abbott and Paxton might not have passed any actual laws, but they’ve certainly established an environment of panic—one that will perpetuate the suffering of the youth they clearly have no interest in actually helping.