Metro Weekly

Texas agency removes website with LGBTQ suicide hotline number after governor’s primary opponent complains

After Don Huffines accused Gov. Greg Abbott of promoting "transgender ideology," the DFPS LGBTQ resource webpage disappeared.

texas, lgbtq, youth, hotline
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott – Photo: Jay Godwin, via Wikimedia.

A Texas state agency removed a webpage providing a suicide hotline number and other resources for LGBTQ youth after a former lawmaker who is challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year accused the governor of trying to spread “transgender ideology.”

Don Huffines, a real estate mogul and former one-term state senator from Dallas, whose family owns a large network of Texas car dealerships, posted a video to Twitter in August criticizing the governor over a webpage for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

The page, as it had for years prior, provided a number for The Trevor Project’s suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline, as well as other resources geared toward LGBTQ kids, such as links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, legal services, and a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, under a section labeled “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.”

Never one to let a political opportunity go to waste, Huffines pointed to the resource page as an example of how Abbott’s administration has been “promoting transgender sexual policies to Texas youth,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

“These are not Texas values, these are not Republican values,” Huffines said in the video. “But these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values.”

Just hours after the video was posted, the Department of Family and Protective Services removed the page, and later took down the entire website for the Texas Youth Connection. In its place is now a message reading: “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for DFPS, said the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions about why the website was removed or whether the department’s actions were motivated by Huffines’ criticism.

As governor, Abbott appoints the department’s commissioner and a nine-member council who develop the agency’s rules and policies — a fact that Huffines was eager to trumpet to score political points among Republicans who believe Abbott is insufficiently conservative or lacks commitment to promoting socially conservative policies to the same degree he promotes his fiscal agenda.

But an investigation by the Chronicle also found that DFPS employees were left scrambling after Huffines’ comments began to gain traction in right-wing circles on Twitter.

“FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Marissa Gonzales, the agency’s media relations director, said in an email to sent to Crimmins 13 minutes after the video was posted. The subject line of Gonzales’ email read: “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

See also: Texas governor mocked LGBTQ community with staged signing of discriminatory “Save Chick-fil-A” bill

Crimmins then asked Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page, telling him “[P]lease not we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content.”

Azar responded that the webpage came from the department’s Preparation for Adult Living program, which provides services for older teens — typically those over age 16 — who are placed in foster care by the state and will soon transition out of care.

Azar said the program has posted “content related to LGBTQ for as long as I can remember,” but said the page condemned by Huffines is “only a few years old.” He said the content on the larger Texas Youth Connection website was approved by Debra Emerson, a longtime employee who serves as the agency’s director of permanency, family and youth services.

Huffines declared victory as soon as the webpage went dark.

“We aren’t surprised that state employees who are loyal to Greg Abbott had to scramble after we called their perverse actions out,” said. “I promised Texans I would get rid of that website and I kept that promise.”

A protester holds a sign at an April 28 rally outside the Texas Capitol protesting anti-transgender legislation. – Photo: Equality Texas.

Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of the statewide LGBTQ group Equality Texas, said LGBTQ children are disproportionately represented in foster care and are especially vulnerable to suicidal ideation. According to a  a May 2021 survey by The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth who reported ever having been in foster care are almost three times more likely to report having attempted suicide within the last year, compared to their peers who were never in the foster care system.

“The state is responsible for these kids’ lives, yet it intentionally removed a way for them to find help when they need it the most,” Martinez said in a statement. “This action is unconscionable, and it reminds us that political aspirations are part of every attack on LGBTQ+ kids in Texas, including the fabricated debates and dozens of anti-transgender bills targeting them this year. These precious kids deserve so much better than the way this state is treating them.”

Huffines has previously taken credit for pressuring Abbott to take more conservative stances on certain issues, including pushing for a bill to bar transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming care. Although Abbott did not place the bill — which failed to pass during the regular legislative session — on his agenda for one of three special sessions, as he did with a transgender sports ban now headed towards his desk, the governor did ask DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters to weigh in on whether surgical interventions for transgender minors were a form of “child abuse,” and called for the department to investigate parents whose children undergo gender confirmation surgery.

LGBTQ advocates say that surgery is rarely performed on transgender youth, but under the bill desired by Abbott, Huffines, and other Republicans, youth would also be barred from accessing puberty blockers or hormones, meaning they would have to go through puberty and develop sex characteristics that are likely to increase their feelings of gender dysphoria, in which their body does not match their own perception of themselves or their gender identity.

Last week, all 13 Democratic state senators sent a letter to Abbott and other state officials calling for the LGBTQ resource webpage to be restored, as reported by Salon.

“As leaders of our state, we must do more to protect our most vulnerable populations, including ensuring life-saving resources such as crisis lines and legal help are easy to access,” the letter said.

Other Democrats accused Abbott of being spineless and caving to political pressure.

“Texas Republicans are so scared of their right wing primary opponents that even the supposedly ‘reasonable’ ones become them anyways,” State Rep. Erin Zwiener tweeted.

The Trevor Project, whose hotline was erased from the DFPS website, issued a statement lamenting the Abbott administration’s actions.

“LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” Casey Pick, a senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement.

“This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame,” Pick added. “We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.”

See also:

North Carolina lieutenant governor doubles down on comments calling LGBTQ content “filth”

EA will remove Jon Gruden from “Madden NFL” after homophobic emails

Sally Ride will become first out LGBTQ person on US currency

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