Greg Abbott: Investigate gender-transitioning care for trans youth as ‘child abuse’

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has directed state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender kids as child abuse.

Abbott has directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate reported instances of "abusive gender-transitioning procedures" done on Texas children.

Abbott sent a letter to DFPS earlier this week saying the law "imposes a duty on DFPS to investigate the parents of children subjected to gender-transitioning procedures, and on other state agencies to investigate licensed facilities where such procedures may occur."

What does Abbott's letter mean for trans kids in Texas?

The letter states that it is "already against the law" to subject Texas children to certain gender-transitioning procedures, referencing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's recent formal opinion concluding that "performing certain ‘sex-change' procedures on children, and prescribing puberty-blockers to them, is 'child abuse’ under Texas law."

Both the letter and Paxton's opinion specifically cite section 261.001 (A-D) of the Texas Family Code to define these gender-affirming procedures as abuse:

  • Castration
  • Fabrication of a "penis" using tissue from other body parts
  • Fabrication of a "vagina" involving the removal of male sex organs
  • Prescription of puberty-suppressors and infertility-inducers
  • Mastectomies
  • Supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen

Abbott's letter also states that Texas law imposes reporting requirements on licensed professionals with direct contact with children, including teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, employees of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services, juvenile probation officers, and juvenile detention or correctional officers.

The Texas Family Code also imposes criminal penalties for failing to report abuse, including being charged with a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and/or one year in jail, or possibly even a state-jail felony, which is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or between six months and two years in jail.

In August 2021, Abbott had previously directed DFPS to issue a determination on whether gender reassignment surgery constituted as child abuse.

In a letter to the governor, Commissioner Jaime Masters determined that "genital mutation of a child through reassignment surgery" constitutes child abuse because it may cause "a genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child".

"Genital mutilation of a child through reassignment surgery is child abuse," reads Commissioner Masters' letter. "This surgical procedure physically alters a child’s genitalia for non-medical purposes potentially inflicting irreversible harm to children’s bodies."

In the letter, Commissioner Masters also concluded that:

  • Allegations involving "genital mutilation of a child through reassignment surgery" will be promptly and thoroughly investigated, and any appropriate actions will be taken.
  • Certain professionals who have cause to believe a child has been or may be abused must report that belief to DFPS within 48-hours after the professional first suspects the abuse
  • Failure to report this abuse is considered a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine, or both. The intentional concealment of such abuse is a state jail felony

The letter also stated that gender reassignment surgery does not constitute abuse when medically necessary, outlining certain conditions for children:

  • Whose body parts have been affected by illness or trauma
  • Born with a medically verifiable genetic disorder of sex development, such as the presence of both ovarian and testicular tissue
  • Who do not have the normal sex chromosome structure for male or female as determined through genetic testing

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, says he’s worried about the message it sends to transgender youth.

"I think this opinion is going to be devastating for LGBTQ youth," said Martinez. "I think a lot of the questions that parents are struggling with and ruminating about what's going to happen to my child in school when they don't have an affirming teacher, when they don't have an affirming administrator, when they have a social worker who thinks that they're supposed to, they're mandated to report to DSPs what happens? And there are a lot of question marks around this."

LGBTQ+ allies respond to Abbott's letter

Abbott's letter sparked backlash from LGBTQ advocacy organizations, such as the ACLU, which stated on Twitter that the letter and Paxton's opinion "have no legal effect, can't change Texas law, and can't override the constitutional rights of Texas families."

The ACLU says while the letter and opinion are not legally binding, they "spread fear and misinformation" and "could spur false reporting of child abuse at a time when trans youth continue to be threatened by state leadership as part of a politically motivated misinformation campaign."

The Trevor Project, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, called the message in the letter and opinion "dehumanizing and dangerous".

"Our research has found that acceptance from parents and gender-affirming care can be life-saving for LGBTQ youth," said the organization on Twitter.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) released a statement following Paxton's opinion, stating it was "a clear reflection that he and his office blatently ignored the input from a plethora of established and credible medical professional organizations who continuously have used actual science and facts to establish best practice medical care for trans children",

"I hope to see the day that trans people will not be used as political pawns, especially our youth. Simply put, we have some leadership in Texas that would undoubtedly rather see dead kids, than trans kids. This opinion is simply that, an opinion. This legally changes nothing and is yet another act of cruelty inflicted on Texas’s trans children for the sake of political posturing." TENT executive director Emmett Schelling stated.

What could this mean for Greg Abbott's re-election campaign?

Many experts see Abbott’s motives as political.

"The Governor is running hard for election, and he's appealing to his base. He's clearly communicating to them that where he stands on these kinds of issues and in a very real sense, he's rallying the troops in order to conclude the deal," said Dr. Eddy Carder, Constitutional Law Professor at Prairie View A&M.

Beto O'Rourke, who is running for Texas Governor to unseat Abbott, tweeted about the letter, saying Abbott is "cruelly and obsessively bullying children."

In a follow-up tweet, O'Rourke showed support for the trans community, saying "To every trans kid in Texas: You're amazing. I'm proud of you. You belong right here in Texas, and I'll fight for you to live freely as yourself and free from discrimination."

Abbott is currently facing seven Republicans in the primary, which is set for March 1. Five Democrats, including O'Rourke, are seeking the nomination to run in the November general election, but at this time, only O'Rourke has released any statement on Abbott's directive.

The Texas Democratic Party weighed in on the situation, stating on Twitter: "Despite the harm the #txlege has already imposed on trans youth -- Greg Abbott now wants to separate them from their families & charge parents with child abuse. That’s how far TX Republicans are going in their campaign of cruelty against the trans community. #AbbottFailedTexas"

In a statement, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said: "In accordance with Governor Abbott’s directive to Commissioner Masters, we will follow Texas law as explained in Attorney General opinion KP-0401. At this time, there are no pending investigations of child abuse involving the procedures described in that opinion. If any such allegations are reported to us, they will be investigated under existing policies of Child Protective Investigations."

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