Metro Weekly

Texas AG Allegedly Tried to Compile Statewide List of Transgender People

Advocates worry a central database of suspected transgender people will facilitate future harassment or violence against them.

Texas AG Ken Paxton – Photo: Office of the Texas Attorney General.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) allegedly tried to compile a statewide list of transgender individuals by demanding information on any Texan who had changed their gender on driver’s licenses or other state IDs over the past years.

Back in June, employees at the Texas Department of Public Safety received an email from top management asking for a “total number of changes from male to female and female to male” on driver’s licenses “for the last 24 months, broken down by month,” according to a copy of the email obtained by The Washington Post.

DPS staffers compiled a list of 16,466 gender changes between June 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022, according to public records. But there were concerns about the accuracy of the list, as it was difficult to weed out driver’s licenses that had been changed in error, or multiple times, or for reasons other than a gender transition.

As a result, DPS officials determined in July that a manual search would be needed to determine the reasons that gender markers were altered on individual licenses and to review any supporting documentation, a department spokesman told the Post.

In subsequent emails about the manual search, DPS staff members repeatedly claimed that the request had come from the attorney general’s office, and discussed narrowing the data to include only licenses that had been altered to reflect a court order approving a gender marker change. 

DPS spokesman Travis Considine told the Post that a verbal request for the information had been received from the attorney general’s office, and that “[u]ltimately, our team advised the AG’s office the data requested neither exists nor could be accurately produced. Thus, no data of any kind was provided.”

When asked who in Paxton’s office had requested the records, Considine replied: “I cannot say.”

A DPS employee told the Post, on condition of anonymity in order to protect themselves from retaliation, that Paxton’s office had bypassed normal channels — DPS’s government relations and general counsel’s offices — and gone straight to the driver license division staff with the request for data. That employee said staffers were told Paxton’s office wanted “numbers,” and, later, a “list” of names, along with the number of people “who had had a legal sex change.”

Pursuant to those demands DPS staffers searched records not only for gender marker changes on driver’s licenses but state ID cards, learner’s permits issued to those 15 and up, commercial licenses, state election certificates, and occupational licenses.

In response to a request made by the Post seeking all records that the attorney general’s office had asked to compile related to instances in which a person’s sex was changed on official state IDs, as well as related emails between the office and other state agencies, officials claims that no such records existed.

“Why would the Office of the Attorney General have gathered this information?” Assistant Attorney General June Harden wrote in an email to the Post, later adding, “Why do you believe this is the case?”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office claimed to have reviewed files and found no files pertaining to the parameters set forth by the Post. When confronted with copies of DPS emails referencing that the request for data had come from directly from the attorney general’s office, Assistant Attorney General Lauren Downey noted that “none of the records provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety are communications with the Office of the Attorney General. Our response to your request was accurate.”

Downey did not reply to Post inquiries about why DPS staff claimed the verbal request had come directly from the attorney general’s office. 

Separately, Paxton’s office has not responded to a public records request for non-email records of contact with DPS, including phone calls, video meetings, or in-person conversations.

According to DPS internal emails, Paxton’s office allegedly made the verbal request a month after the Texas Supreme Court found that Gov. Greg Abbott had overreached in directing state child welfare agencies to launch “child abuse” investigations into parents of transgender youth whom the state believes have allowed their children to access gender-affirming health care treatments to assist in transitioning. Employees of those agencies were subsequently told not to communicate in writing about the investigations, according to public records, ostensibly in order to avoid a paper trail.

Abbott had issued the directive in response to a legal opinion, offered by Attorney General Paxton, declaring that gender-affirming care is a form of child abuse because it infringes on the right of minors — who are “legally incompetent to consent” to such treatments — to procreate later in life, particularly if they undergo hormone therapy or surgical procedures and later regret those choices.

However, despite the court ruling that the executive branch had overreached and that Paxton’s legal opinion was not binding, child abuse investigations by the state Department of Family and Protective Services were allowed to resume. A subsequent lawsuit, filed on behalf of Texas members of the LGBTQ advocacy organization PFLAG, sought to block investigations of parents who belong to the group, with a state judge ruling in favor of the families.

While the public records obtained by the Post do not indicate why the attorney general’s office sought the driver’s license and state ID information on gender marker changes, LGBTQ advocates worry that such information could be used to further restrict transgender rights or persecute transgender individuals, this time targeting legal adults instead of merely minors. 

A database of names of people requesting gender marker changes could see trans-identifying minors removed from their parents’ homes and placed in the custody of the state foster care system, where they could potentially be abused or even subjected to conversion therapy against their will.

For transgender adults who transitioned as minors, the database could be used to determine when they transitioned and potentially be used as “evidence” to attempt to bring charges against their families, as reporter Erin Reed has noted on her Substack.

Still other transgender people who waited until adulthood to transition could be targeted for harassment by state officials — or for physical or sexual violence at the hands non-government actors, if any were to gain access to such a trove of information, whether by hacking into the system or by being handed personally-identifiable information from sympathetic government employees with access to the database. 

A database of people suspected to be transgender could also be used for nefarious purposes in enforcing other laws already on the books, or proposed bills likely to become law in the next few years. For example, the data could be used to tracking transgender athletes and penalize schools or leagues that allow them to compete based on their gender identity, to enforce bans on public drag that could be used to prosecute transgender people for simply wearing gender-affirming clothing in public, or bring charges against individuals who access gender-affirming restrooms.

“This is sort of a nefarious collection of data for a use that we don’t know yet,” Meghan Stabler, a transgender rights advocate, told NewsNation’s Chris Cuomo on his eponymous news show. “The bad intent of the ask from the AG’s office has multiple implications on the lives of trans adults or even trans teenagers … and we don’t know where it’s going. It is a very dire state for trans people in the state of Texas.”

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