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Judge temporarily blocks investigations into families of Texas trans kids

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum said the governor’s directive for the state child welfare agency to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children was “beyond the scope of his authority and unconstitutional.” The statewide injunction will remain in effect until the case is heard in July.

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Seats reserved for transgender children and their parents sit empty at a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services committee meeting as most were too afraid to testify publicly. (Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Tribune)

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

A state judge ruled Friday that providing gender-affirming care is not a reason for the state to investigate a family for child abuse, and halted all such investigations.

The statewide injunction from District Judge Amy Clark Meachum will remain in effect until “this court, and potentially the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Texas” hear the case, she said.

Meachum said there is a “substantial likelihood” that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal will prevail in getting Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive for such investigations permanently overturned, calling his actions “beyond the scope of his duty and unconstitutional.”

This ruling came after a day of arguments about the Feb. 22. directive, in which Abbott told the Department of Family and Protective Services to open child abuse investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. Abbott specifically addressed puberty blockers, which are completely reversible, and surgeries that are rarely performed on minors.

Since the directive, the state has opened nine investigations into families who provide this medical care to their children. The injunction stops the state from investigating anyone for child abuse based solely on the allegation that they provided gender-affirming medical treatment. It also stops anyone from being prosecuted for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care and lifts the mandatory reporting requirements laid out in the directive.

Meachum ruled that Abbott’s directive had the effect of a new law or agency rule “despite no new legislation, regulation or even stated agency policy,” which improperly encroached on the legislative arm of the government.

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A DFPS supervisor who was called to testify at the Friday court hearing said that the child abuse investigations into families of transgender children are being held to a different standard than other cases.

Investigators can’t discuss cases with colleagues via text or email, and they are required to investigate the cases, even if there’s no evidence of abuse, said Randa Mulanax, an investigative supervisor with DFPS.

Mulanax has decided to resign as a result of this directive after six years with the agency.

“I’ve always felt that, at the end of the day, the department had children’s best interest at heart,” she said. “I no longer feel that way.”

Abbott’s move to have families of transgender children investigated for abuse — made one week before the state’s March 1 primary election — followed a nonbinding legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the parents of a transgender child who were investigated by child welfare workers after the mother, a state employee, asked questions about the new directive.

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Meachum granted a temporary restraining order last week, which halted that particular case, but there are currently nine families under investigation for providing gender-affirming care, according to DFPS.

Lawyers for the ACLU and Lambda argued in court Friday that Meachum should grant a statewide injunction on all of these investigations until the legitimacy of this directive can be argued in trial.

“The defendant’s directives and actions are traumatizing,” said ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer. He added that the actions are “killing the ability of transgender youth to continue to get necessary care, and forcing physicians and mandatory reporters … to decide between civil and criminal penalties … and doing what’s right for the health of their patients.”

A lawyer for the state argued that simply opening a child abuse investigation into a family is not necessarily evidence of harm to that family, and that it would be overreach for “the judicial branch to infringe on the executive branch’s ability to perform such a critical task as ensuring the welfare of the state’s children.”

Mulanax said employees have been told not to communicate with colleagues about these cases via email or text message, which she described as unusual and “unethical.”

She said investigators have been told they cannot mark these cases as “priority none,” a designation staff members use when they believe a report does not merit investigation, and must alert department leadership and the general counsel when they’re working on one of these cases.

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A lawyer for the state asked Mulanax if any transgender children had been removed from their homes or been taken off of medication prescribed by a doctor. Mulanax said the cases had not been resolved and to her knowledge, no one had been removed or taken off of medication.

A psychologist who treats children with gender dysphoria testified to the court about the “outright panic” that her patients and health care providers have been feeling since this directive went into effect.

Megan Mooney is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She testified about the conflict this directive has created for herself and other professionals whom the state considers mandatory reporters of child abuse.

A requirement to report her clients for receiving “medically necessary and professionally upheld standards of care” would be devastating to her clients and her business, Mooney said.

She said she doesn’t believe she is in violation of any laws, since Paxton’s opinion was nonbinding, but the governor’s directive has sowed confusion and anxiety, as well as created an ethical conflict.

Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello asked whether Mooney’s personal ethical disagreement with a policy means that she doesn’t have to follow it.

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“My ethical code from the American Psychological Association suggests that when our ethics and our laws are in conflict, we take every effort to remedy that,” Mooney said. “That is in part why I am here today.”

Corbello walked Mooney through the World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards for providing care for minors with gender dysphoria — assessing the child, providing family counseling and psychotherapy to children, treating any co-existing mental health concerns and providing fully reversible physical interventions, among other steps.

Mooney agreed with these steps, though she said sometimes they happen simultaneously.

At a Department of Family and Protective Services meeting on Friday, Heather Crawford said children will die because DFPS complied with Abbott’s order. Her own child, who is transgender, attempted suicide when she did not at first affirm their gender identity. She read a note at the meeting that her child had written before the attempt.

“This note was written in blue, glitter pen. They were 12 years old. This is what happens when trans children are not giving the affirming care that is their God-given right,” Crawford said. “If DFPS fails to comply with your moral and legal obligation to protect all of the children of Texas, the department and each person working in the or for the department will be complicit in every single one of those deaths.”

Since the guidance was announced, crisis counselors at the Trevor Project reported young trans and nonbinary Texans are having suicidal thoughts as they fear losing access to medical care and being separated from their families, said Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at organization, which works to prevent suicides in the LGBTQ community.

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More than 80 other people spoke during public comment at the DFPS meeting, and many read written testimony from trans children and their families who were terrified to attend themselves. Sarah Orman, an advocate for children in the foster care system with Court Appointed Special Advocates, read testimony on behalf of an 8-year-old transgender girl.

“Before the Texas Legislature in 2021, I never really spent much time thinking about how different I am that other kids. My friends who know I’m trans don’t care. They love me just the same,” the girl wrote. “It wasn’t until last year that I’ve worried about not being treated the same as others. And just last week, I found out what a lawyer is and who CPS is. My mom had to explain that so people might come to talk to me and ask me a bunch of questions that might hurt to hear.”

Late Friday, Paxton said on Twitter that his office would be appealing Meachum’s ruling. “I’m appealing. I’ll win this fight to protect our Texas children,” Paxton tweeted.

Meanwhile, Lambda Legal attorney Currey Cook said his organization was “thrilled” by Meachum’s decision.

“It’s been such a harrowing past week for everyone living under the threat of being persecuted just for supporting your kids,” he said. “What the governor did put in stark relief the steps that some government officials are willing to take for political gain.”

Reporter Sneha Dey contributed to this story.

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Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Eleanor Klibanoff is the women's health reporter at The Texas Tribune. She was previously with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, where she covered sexual assault, domestic violence and policing, among other things. She has worked at public radio stations in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Missouri, as well as NPR, and her work has aired on All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now. She lives in Austin with her enormous cat, Grover Cleveland.

Texas

Judge temporarily blocks some Texas investigations into gender-affirming care for trans kids

The state has been investigating whether parents who provide access to gender-affirming health care are committing child abuse. The temporary restraining order is part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of three families and members of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

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Activists and members of Austin’s LGBTQ community gathered on the steps of the capitol in 2017 to celebrate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots. A Texas judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state from some investigations into gender-affirming care for transgender kids. (Austin Price/The Texas Tribune)

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

An Austin judge has temporarily stopped the state from investigating many parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. The state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against one family under investigation, but at least eight more cases remain open.

Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer issued a temporary restraining order Friday in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three families and members of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group that claims more than 600 members in Texas.

Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National, applauded the decision to stop what he called “invasive, unnecessary and unnerving investigations.”

“However, let’s be clear: These investigations into loving and affirming families shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” Bond said in a statement.

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing legal battle stemming from a February order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, directing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

The Texas Supreme Court recently blocked the state from investigating one family, which had brought a lawsuit challenging the directive, but overturned a wider injunction that stopped the state from investigating other families.

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This new lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, seeks to block investigations into all parents of transgender children who belong to PFLAG.

During Friday’s hearing, Lambda Legal’s Paul Castillo revealed that the state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against Amber and Adam Briggle, who were under investigation for providing gender-affirming care to their 14-year-old son.

The Briggle family, outspoken advocates for transgender rights, once invited Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton over for dinner. Five years later, they ended up at the center of a child abuse investigation that stemmed, in part, from a nonbinding legal opinion that Paxton issued in February.

While their case has been closed, many others remain ongoing. Castillo said one of the families involved in the lawsuit was visited by DFPS investigators Friday morning.

“I do want to highlight for the court that every plaintiff in this case has illustrated the stress and trauma of even the potential of having a child removed, merely based on the suspicion that the family has pursued the medically necessary course of care that is prescribed by their doctor for gender dysphoria,” Castillo said.

Gender-affirming care is recommended by all major medical associations to treat gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their gender identity does not align with their biological sex. Gender dysphoria can be exacerbated as a child approaches puberty, so doctors often prescribe reversible puberty blockers and, sometimes, hormone therapy. More than half of all transgender youth report considering suicide, but the rates are much lower for those who are able to access gender-affirming health care.

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The mental health impact of Abbott’s directive has already been clear, according to the lawsuit. One 16-year-old transgender boy, identified in the suit as Antonio Voe, attempted to kill himself after the directive came down. When he was admitted to an outpatient psychiatric facility, the staff reported his family to DPFS for child abuse because he was undergoing hormone therapy, according to the lawsuit.

In the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello revisited the state’s argument that merely being under investigation by DFPS does not constitute harm to a family.

She also argued that PFLAG cannot bring this legal challenge on behalf of its members since there is no evidence that PFLAG members are being targeted for investigation based on their membership in the association.

Soifer disagreed, granting the temporary restraining order on behalf of the three named plaintiffs and PFLAG members. Soifer directed the lawyers to schedule a hearing in the coming days, where a judge will hear evidence and decide whether to extend the restraining order.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Austin

Austin Pride Rescheduled

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The Austin Pride Foundation announced that this year’s Austin Pride celebration, originally scheduled for Saturday, August 13, 2022, has been rescheduled for the following weekend. This year’s Austin Pride Festival and Parade will now be held on Saturday, August 20, 2022.

According the a post on Facebook, the change was made at the request of the City of Austin:

We will celebrate Austin Pride No! Matter! What! At the request of the City of Austin, our new date for Austin Pride is Saturday, August 20, 2022. One more week also gives us a chance to go Beyond the Rainbow for the Pride we deserve after two long years. This year the rainbow shines no matter what! See you there.

This will be the first pride celebration in Austin since 2019, after all events in 2020 were canceled as a result of the pandemic and canceled again in 2021 due to a surge of infections caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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Dallas

Dallas Southern Pride Announces the 2022 Juneteenth Unity Weekend

More than 20,000 people expected to attend the star-studded event featuring A-List celebrities including Moneybagg Yo, The City Girls, Saucy Santana, and Dallas’ own, Yella Beezy and Erica Banks

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DALLAS — Dallas Southern Pride will host its Juneteenth Unity Weekend celebration, June 16-19, 2022. This year’s celebration will include a myriad of events, including health and wellness screenings, COVID-19 vaccinations, concerts, their annual Juneteenth Unity Festival and Pool Party, various local club events, parties and The Emancipation Ball. Some of the biggest stars in hip-hop and entertainment are confirmed for this unforgettable four-day weekend of festivities, including the City Girls, Saucy Santana, and Moneybagg Yo, who will perform at the Juneteenth Unity Festival and Pool Party on Saturday, June 18 from 5 PM – 9 PM at Samuell-Grand Aquatic Center, 3201 Samuell Blvd., Dallas, Texas; and Dallas’ own superstars Erica Banks and Yella Beezy, who will perform at the Mega Party that Saturday at 10 PM at Amplified, 10262 Technology Blvd E, Dallas, Texas. The weekend of events will conclude with a signature brunch on Sunday, June 19, hosted by Kirk Myers-Hill, president of Dallas Southern Pride.

More than 20,000 people from across the United States and internationally are slated to attend this year’s Juneteenth Unity Weekend celebration, which was created to celebrate the brilliance and culture of Black people. An idea birthed by community leader, businessperson and activist, Kirk Myers-Hill, the Juneteenth Unity Weekend is the official annual celebration for Black Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people to come together and celebrate their contributions to both American and Black culture, liberation and community.

“Juneteenth Unity Weekend is a celebration and representation of the many intersections and beautiful mosaics within the Black community,” said Kirk Myers-Hill, president of Dallas Southern Pride. “The Black community is only as strong as its Black Gay brothers and sisters. Juneteenth is an opportunity to showcase unity and display the belief that we are all stronger together.”

Juneteenth became a federally recognized national holiday in 2021. However, long before the nation started celebrating this holiday, Black people in Texas were celebrating this day, as it originated in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to slaves, was signed 1863. However, it wasn’t until two years later on June 19, 1865, that slaves in Texas first learned of their freedom. Union troops entered Galveston, TX, announcing that all slaves were free. This marked the beginning of Juneteenth as it is known and recognized today. Since 2017, the Governor of Texas has submitted a proclamation recognizing the Juneteenth Unity Weekend. Additionally, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson continues to show her support by issuing welcome letters for the past five years. The Juneteenth Unity Weekend is a family-oriented celebration with events and programming for the entire community and is excited to bring the celebration of Juneteenth back home to Texas. June is also Pride Month and the Juneteenth Unity Weekend has been a staple event in the city of Dallas during Pride month for many years.

“VisitDallas is excited to support the 2022 Juneteenth Unity Weekend hosted by Dallas Southern Pride and Abounding Prosperity, Inc. Events like this continue to make Dallas a better place to live and visit,” said Craig T. Davis, president and CEO of VisitDallas.

Since its inception in 2008, the Juneteenth Unity Weekend continues to make a positive impact in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex by unifying the community, celebrating freedom, providing a safe space for community gathering, and infusing millions of dollars into the local economy. The 2021 Juneteenth Unity Weekend brought thousands of visitors to the Metroplex, and sold-out all its host hotels. The event generated more than $2.2 million dollars for local business hit hard by the global COVID-19 pandemic and created hundreds of jobs for “gig” workers. The event and leadership team also created other historic moments for the city of Dallas. As a result, the HIV positivity rate dropped below 10 percent for the first time in the event’s history among more than 200 attendees tested; the Dallas Police Department held a recruitment drive targeting LGBTQ+ applicants; the Dallas skyline was lighted in the Juneteenth and Black Pride colors for the first time and The Dallas Southern Pride Official Pride flag was debuted and flown for the first time at the Sheraton Market Center.

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The Juneteenth Unity Weekend is a collaborative celebration made possible by the support of the many companies and organizations that share the collective vision for this impactful event that advances the entire Black family and social justice movements and celebrates unity and peace. The 2022 presenting sponsors thus far are Gilead Sciences and Abounding Prosperity, Inc., along with Black Entertainment Television (BET) and ViiV Healthcare as diamond sponsors. Other key sponsors include the Dallas Mavericks, Radio One Dallas, Dallas TPID, AHF, Yale School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University, HVTN, SBPAN, AIDS United, VisitDallas, Hilton, Center for Black Equity, United Black Ellument, Crawford Jewelry, and Don Morphy.

A portion of the proceeds from this year’s Juneteenth Unity Weekend will be used to support the free health, and wellness activities of its partner agencies, which offsets the cost of essential services to Black and Brown communities, with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ communities and their families in the DFW metroplex.

The Juneteenth Unity Weekend is still open for additional sponsors and vendors, particularly those in the arts, entertainment, health and wellness, skincare, clothing, beauty, food and beverage including food trucks, and lifestyle brands.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.dallassouthernpride.com.

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