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Transgender Texas Kids Terrified After Governor Orders Parents Be Investigated for Child Abuse

Some experts doubt that classifying gender-affirming care as child abuse would hold up in court, but families still feel targeted by Gov. Greg Abbott’s new order

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Adelyn Vigil, 13, has had panic attacks since Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state child welfare officials to launch child abuse investigations into reports of transgender kids receiving gender-affirming care. The Rio Grande Valley girl is now second-guessing whether to continue receiving such care. “The thought of me being separated makes me cry — and to think that my mom could go to jail for it and not being able to see her anymore,” Adelyn said Sunday. (Verónica G. Cárdenas/The Texas Tribune)

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Every couple of months, Adamalis Vigil drives eight hours from the Rio Grande Valley to North Texas so her 13-year-old transgender daughter Adelyn can receive health care. They talk and sing the whole trip.

The care she receives there is unavailable in her hometown but pivotal to her sense of identity — and her mental health.

“It makes me feel who I truly am, and I don’t feel singled out for not being like other girls in school anymore,” Adelyn said. “It’s just very special for me that mom takes me all the way over there.”

From left: Adelyn Vigil and her cousin Aylette Reyes, both 13, passed their time on Sunday with Adelyn’s mother, Adamalis Vigil, 34, at a relative’s home in the Rio Grande Valley. (Verónica G. Cárdenas/The Texas Tribune)

Adelyn — who stands tall at 5 feet, 5 inches and is outspoken in class — had been having panic attacks in school as she approached puberty. After she started seeing the doctors in North Dallas, the attacks stopped.

But last week, the panic attacks started again when Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — seven days before the GOP primary election in which he’s being accused of not being conservative enough — ordered state child welfare officials to launch child abuse investigations into reports of transgender kids receiving gender-affirming care.

Adelyn is terrified she will be forcibly separated from her mother. So great is her anxiety that she doesn’t want to sleep in her own bed. The Vigil family agreed to speak with The Texas Tribune but did not feel safe disclosing details about Adelyn’s medical care.

Abbott’s directive followed a nonbinding legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton — who is also in the fight of his political life in Tuesday’s primary election — that said gender-affirming care constitutes child abuse.

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Paxton’s opinion cited body modification surgeries that medical experts say are rarely, if ever, performed on children. But he also said it would be child abuse to administer gender-affirming care that is widely accepted by leading health care groups, like puberty blockers, which are completely reversible. Under the gender-affirming model of care, experts say, more time is spent allowing kids to socially transition instead of focusing on medical treatment.

Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said it’s highly unlikely that a judge would justify child abuse charges or removal of a child based solely on the use of gender-affirming therapy.

“Texas law has a very clear definition of what child abuse is, and it’s not this,” Skeen said.

Still, the attorney general’s opinion and governor’s directive drew fire from families, lawmakers, doctors, advocates and the White House, among others. Advocates say that calling gender-affirming therapy child abuse could lead to it being weaponized in divorce cases, create legal issues for physicians and therapists who treat transgender youth and empower people to attack the young people themselves — as well as the family members and others who support them.

“It’s not a far stretch to think that you could be harassed, assaulted, killed,” said W. Carsten Andresen, an associate professor of criminal justice at St. Edward’s University in Austin.

Child abuse investigations based on gender-affirming care are almost unheard of in Texas. Officials at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services say that there have been three reports last week “meeting the description in the AG opinion and Governor’s directive” but offered no other details. No investigations have been launched, officials said.

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But families with transgender kids and their advocates say even an attempt at criminalizing certain care further stigmatizes an already vulnerable group of Texans. The officials’ moves also can block access to treatments that can prevent suicide and severe depression caused in part by gender dysphoria — discomfort related to feeling a disconnect between one’s personal gender identity and the gender assigned at birth.

A recent study showed that more than 40% of transgender youth attempt suicide. The rate of suicide attempts among transgender youth is three times higher than among their cisgender counterparts, according to recent studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the moves now leave Texas families with transgender children choosing between getting their children health care that medical experts recommend or possibly facing a child protective services investigation.

“​​I know I have to fight. I know I have to speak up. I know I have to show up for her. But how do I alleviate her stress when I’m stressed?” Adamalis said. “The fact that she has to do the fighting, too — it’s just terrible. She had to mature so much faster than kids her age.”

Riding a wave of anti-trans politics 

Abbott and Paxton have spent the past year reflecting and stoking anti-transgender sentiment among voters — many of them stirred by right-wing media. The public pressure was so intense that a Dallas program that specialized in helping transgender young people was formally dissolved.

In his statement this week, Abbott even called on other Texans to act as watchdogs and report any parents for abuse if they believe the parent is supporting their child’s gender transition with professional help.

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For years, the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature has targeted transgender Texans. In 2017, lawmakers unsuccessfully sought to ban people from using bathrooms that don’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. Last year, they succeeded in limiting athletic participation by transgender students. Last year during the regular legislative session, Texas filed more anti-LGBTQ bills than any other state legislature, according to Equality Texas, which tracks such legislation.

Among the proposals was a bill that would explicitly classify some gender-affirming care as child abuse. The Texas Senate passed the bill, but the legislation died in the House.

The opinion and new directive that aim to achieve the same effect without a law passing further stigmatizes an already marginalized group by normalizing speech and actions that target them, Texas House Democrats wrote this week in a letter blasting the comments by Abbott and Paxton.

“Transphobic and false statements like those made by the Governor and the Attorney General have produced an unsafe environment in our state that has forced families to flee to protect their transgender kids, adversely affected the mental health of gender expansive youth, and perpetuated an epidemic of violence against transgender Texans, especially Black trans women,” the letter from several Democratic lawmakers read.

On Thursday, district attorneys from five Texas counties — including Dallas, Bexar, Harris and Travis — took to Twitter to bash the directives as “anti-trans” and “life-threatening” and saying they would not treat gender-affirming actions as abuse.

“We want to assure our residents with transgender children that they are safe to continue seeking the care their children need,” a joint statement said.

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Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said she would not prosecute “any parent, any facility, or anyone else for providing medically appropriate care to transgender children.”

“As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I am particularly sensitive to the invidious nature of this order — it turns family members against each other at the expense of their children,” Ogg said in a statement. “It is a remnant of a hateful past that I had hoped our society had matured beyond.”

Second-guessing more care  

Since Adelyn’s mother sat her down and told her about the governor’s order, the teen has been reconsidering whether she wants to go to her next doctor’s appointment. She has been scrolling through TikTok videos about the order until her mother comes home from work. On Thursday, she tried to watch a Percy Jackson movie as a distraction, but the fear has been getting to her.

“When I’m at work, she keeps calling and calling: ‘When are you going to be home and how long? How much longer? Are you almost home?’” Adamalis said. “It affects her in that sense that she wants to feel that kind of security and feel safe around me.”

Libby Gonzales was 7 when she went to the Texas Capitol in 2017 to testify against legislation that would have limited what bathrooms transgender people can use. The bills ultimately failed to pass. (Austin Prices/The Texas Tribune)

Five years ago, Libby Gonzales, a transgender girl, and her family told Texas lawmakers about how she never wanted to be forced into the boys’ bathroom at school, and that the idea scared her. They traveled to the Capitol to speak out against the now-infamous “bathroom bill,” which would have limited which public bathrooms transgender Texans can use. That legislation, though, died despite several attempts at getting it through the Legislature.

“I am 7 years old and I am transgender,” the nervous girl told the powerful state senators looking down at her from the dais in 2017. “Please keep me safe. Thank you.”

Libby Gonzales, 11, was 7 when she testified against the so-called “bathroom bill” at the Texas Capitol. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/The Texas Tribune)

Today, Libby, now 11, and her family do not feel safe confirming or denying her experience with gender care anymore.

Her family — outspoken opponents of Texas Republicans’ near-constant efforts to curtail the rights of her daughter and other transgender youth — are now afraid that their efforts to support Libby will be called criminal by the most powerful men in the state.

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As a result of the directive, Rachel Gonzales, Libby’s mother, has developed plans in case Texas Child Protective Services shows up at her Dallas home.

“There are so many hypotheticals that my husband and I talked through.” Gonzales said. “We have to have a plan in place. It also just helps me sleep at night.“

Skeen, the Lambda Legal attorney, said political rhetoric against transgender children is already driving families out of the state. But the Gonzales family said they are here to stay.

“My daughter is a fifth-generation Texan. We’re simply not leaving our home because of some bullies in the Texas [Legislature],” Gonzales said.

Extremely rare 

While child abuse investigations of gender-affirming care are rare, there is at least one well-known example: a DFPS investigation into the family of a transgender child over the use of gender-affirming therapy, a bitter custody battle fueled by the blogger father of a 7-year-old girl who was assigned male at birth.

In 2019, Abbott and Paxton demanded that the state’s child welfare agency investigate whether the child’s mother was committing abuse by letting the child present as a girl. At the time, the move alarmed an already fearful community of parents of transgender children.

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In that case, in which no surgical or hormonal procedures were used, child welfare officials ruled out child abuse and closed the investigation. The father, Jeff Younger, lost custody of his two children in the divorce, according to his website.

Younger is now running for the Republican nomination to the Texas House in his Flower Mound district in Tuesday’s primary. He could not be reached for comment.

In their statement this week, Texas House Democrats said gender-affirming therapy is still legal for transgender youth and supported by medical professionals and that mandatory reporting laws had not changed.

And in spite of child welfare officials saying earlier this week that they would comply with Abbott’s orders, the Democratic lawmakers said no government agency “is obligated to comply with the directive of the Governor or enforce the false assertions made by the Attorney General.”

CPS investigations are only launched if “an allegation is reported, and if the allegation meets the legal definition of abuse or neglect,” said DFPS spokesperson Patrick Crimmins.

In general, CPS investigators who find evidence of abuse may decide to set up services for the family to remove the threat to the child or stage some other intervention. In extreme cases, they may ask for an order from a judge to either temporarily or permanently remove children from the home.

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Rachel Gonzales holds her daughter Libby outside their home in Dallas in 2021. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/The Texas Tribune)

Their worst fear 

Still, transgender kids Libby knows “are freaking out, coming home from school crying. I mean, she also has cried a lot,” Rachel Gonzales said. “That would cause irreparable harm to any family and any child to remove a kid from their home in a state where the government is very intentionally trying to hurt them.”

Even an investigation itself can be traumatic, life-altering and invasive, Andresen said. A DFPS investigator may interview family members and others familiar with a family or the child in order to decide whether there is reason to believe abuse is taking place or whether to rule it out, among other possible outcomes.

“Parents that have the money and resources are seriously thinking about looking to move outside of Texas,” said Andresen, whose wife sometimes works with transgender families in her job as a family attorney. “Even if there is no legal grounds, why would you stay here with somebody threatening to investigate you?” Also, any protection under the law could be wiped away easily if Texas lawmakers — an increasingly conservative bunch — decide to change the code, which could effectively make gender-affirming therapy for minors illegal in Texas.

Adelyn’s care has “really been life-changing” for the Rio Grande Valley girl, her mother said.

“How is that considered child abuse to accept them and love them?” Adamalis Vigil asks. “How can they overstep their power and try to come and tell me how I should love my child?”

Karen Brooks Harper contributed to this story.

Disclosure: Equality 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.

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

Sneha Dey is a reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune. She is a senior at Northwestern University, where she studies journalism, legal studies and creative writing. The New York native has previously worked for the Chicago Sun-Times, NPR and Chalkbeat. She has also served as editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern. When she’s not in the newsroom, she is going on runs or eating her way through Austin.

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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