Metro Weekly

Judge blocks Texas from investigating trans teen’s parents

Trans 16-year-old girl's parents sue state for investigating them for "child abuse" after allowing their daughter to receive gender-affirming health care.

trans, texas
Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas – Photo: Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

A Texas state judge has blocked Texas’ child protection agency from investigating the parents of a transgender teenager for “child abuse” after they allowed her to receive gender-affirming medical care.

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum, of the 201st Civil District Court in Travis County, issued an injunction blocking the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from pursuing an investigation against the 16-year-old’s parents.

If DFPS officials deem that the medical care the teen received was a form of abuse, they could take the teenager out of her parents’ home and place her in Texas’ foster care system, place her parents on the child abuse registry, and even fire her mother — who is, ironically, a DFPS employee who reviews cases of abuse and neglect — from her state job, as well as the family’s health insurance coverage. Additionally, if local district attorneys chose to prosecute the case, the parents could also face additional criminal charges and even jail time.

The child’s mother, referred to in a lawsuit lodged against the state by the parents as “Jane Doe,” was placed on leave after she asked her supervisor for clarification about how DFPS would implement a directive by Gov. Greg Abbott ordering the agency to investigate parents who may have allowed their trans-identifying children to access puberty blockers or hormones.

Abbot based that directive on a legal opinion, issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton, opining that surgical or hormonal interventions are “abuse” because they cause infertility, and thus violate transgender-identifying minors’ right to procreate. DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters subsequently issued a statement vowing to “follow Texas law” as laid out in Paxton’s opinion.

After Jane Doe was placed on leave, officials with DFPS launched an official investigation into her, interviewing her, her husband, and her daughter and demanding they hand over documentation regarding her medical records to DFPS. The family has so far refused to hand over those records. Doe claims she and her husband have been “unable to sleep, worrying about what they can do and how they can keep their family intact and their daughter safe and healthy,” as a result of the investigation.

Enlisting the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Texas, and Lambda Legal, Jane Doe, along with her husband “John Doe” and daughter “Mary Doe,” and Dr. Megan Mooney, a Houston-based psychologist who works with trans teenagers, jointly sued Abbott, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and Masters, in her official capacity.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that Abbott’s directive violates the Texas Administrative Procedure Act by interfering with their legal rights, that the defendants have exceeded their legal authority by trying to enforce the directive, that the directive is unconstitutionally “vague,” and violates separation of powers, the plaintiffs’ right to due process, and their right to equal protection under the law. They are asking for both temporary and permanent injunctions blocking DFPS from enforcing the directive, as well as damages and attorneys’ fees.

In issuing the temporary injunction blocking DFPS from investigating the Doe family, Meachum found that all the plaintiffs would suffer “irreparable injury” if DFPS were to enforce the governor’s directive — which could not be remedied by any award of damages after the fact.

” The Court finds Jane Doe has been placed on administrative leave at work and is at risk of losing her job and that Jane, John and Mary Doe face the imminent and ongoing deprivation of their constitutional rights, the potential loss of necessary medical care, and the stigma attached to being the subject of an unfounded child abuse investigation,” Meachum wrote. The Court further finds that if placed on the Child Abuse Registry, Jane Doe could lose the ability to practice her profession and both Jane and John Doe could lose their ability to work with minors and volunteer in their community.

“The Court further finds that Plaintiff Mooney could face civil suit by patients for failing to treat them in accordance with professional standards and loss of licensure for failing to follow her professional ethics if she complies with Defendants’ orders and actions. If she does not comply with Defendants’ orders, Dr. Mooney could face immediate criminal prosecution, as set forth in the Governor’s letter.”

“We appreciate the relief granted to our clients, but this should never have happened and is unfathomably cruel,” Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “Families should not have to fear being separated because they are providing the best possible health care for their children.”

Although Meachum’s injunction blocks DFPS from investigating the Doe family, its does not stop the agency from opening investigations into other families in similar situations. Meachum will next consider whether to issue a statewide injunction blocking investigations into all parents of trans children on March 11.

Lambda Legal lawyer Paul Castillo told the Texas Tribune that he is aware of at least two other families, beyond the Does, who have been contacted by DFPS for investigations, noting that the governor’s order will inhibit medical providers from prescribing gender-affirming treatments, from mental health counseling to puberty blockers and hormones, that may be medically necessary for their patients — thereby affecting the trans youths’ physical and mental well-being — and intimidating parents from pursuing professional help for their children suffering with gender dysphoria out of fear that they will lose custody of their children.

“Families aside from [those investigated] will cease care,” Castillo said. “As a result of this order 
 medical providers have stopped care in terms of prescriptions to transgender kids because the threat of continuing to provide, the harm is so great.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott – Photo: Jay Godwin, via Wikimedia.

During Wednesday’s court hearing, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kercher argued that the governor’s letter has been misconstrued to imply that all parents providing gender-affirming care will be investigated by DFPS, claiming that the governor’s order merely clarifies a “concern” that gender-affirming treatments could be used to harm children. But Meachum challenged that argument, asking how common it is for a governor to issue similar directives to DFPS, to which Kercher responded he did not know.

LGBTQ advocates are absolutely livid over the governor’s order.

“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” Adri PĂ©rez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “A week before [Tuesday’s primary] election, Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a partisan political attack that isn’t rooted in the needs of families, the evidence from doctors and the expertise from child welfare professionals.”

Medical experts have criticized Paxton’s opinion, noting that gender confirmation surgeries are rarely performed on children, that puberty blockers are reversible, and that offering gender-affirming care has a positive effect on transgender children’s mental health.

The advocacy group Children’s Rights applauded the plaintiffs for bringing the lawsuit challenging Abbott’s “blatantly political” directive.

“The Governor’s executive order risks causing irreparable harm to trans youth and their families — all under the guise of punishing so-called ‘child abuse.’ If Governor Abbott and other Texas leaders really cared about children, they would focus their efforts on better serving the children in Texas’ badly broken child welfare system, not on cruelly targeting transgender children and their families for seeking affirming health care, Samantha Bartosz, the deputy litigation director at Children’s Rights, said in a statement. “As advocates for children, including LGBTQ+ youth, Children’s Rights stands with the ACLU and Lambda Legal and supports their work to protect children’s rights to appropriate and necessary medical care by blocking this discriminatory executive order.”

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre – Photo: The White House.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre also condemned Abbott and Paxton’s actions.

“Conservative officials in Texas and other states across the country should stop inserting themselves into health care decisions that create needless tension between pediatricians and their patients,” Jean-Pierre told The Dallas Morning News last week in a statement. “No parent should face the agony of a politician standing in the way of accessing life-saving care for their child.”

According to a 2021 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ youth, access to gender-affirming medical care has been linked to lower rates of depression and suicidal ideation. The study found that those transgender youth under 18 who had received gender-affirming hormone therapy, specifically, experienced 40% lower odds of depression and a past-year suicide attempt.

The organization released a statement praising Meachum’s decision to issue the injunction and calling Abbott’s directive “unlawful.”

“We are relieved for the moment to see the District Court of Travis County place a temporary hold on the unlawful ‘child abuse’ investigations into Texas parents and healthcare professionals who support transgender and nonbinary youth,” Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “The Trevor Project remains steadfast in its position that this guidance is invalid and unconstitutional. We are optimistic that judges will continue to see the governor’s action for what it truly is — a politically-motivated opinion that will only pit the government against loving families, teachers against students, doctors against patients, and neighbors against neighbors.”

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