Gabriel C. PÃ©rez/KUT
A Texas state district judge on Friday temporarily blocked a directive by Gov. Greg Abbott to have state authorities investigate gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth as child abuse.
The ruling by District Judge Amy Clark Meachum in Travis County came after Abbott’s order led to the investigation of a state employee’s family after their daughter received such care, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal to sue over the directive.
Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding opinion that some “sex-change” procedures and the prescribing of puberty-blockers to certain children is “child abuse” under Texas law.
Paxton’s opinion was followed by a directive from Abbott to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas.”
Meachum said the plaintiffs would likely succeed after a trial on the merits of the case and ordered that hearing to begin in July. Meachum said the directive exceeded Abbott’s authority under the Texas Constitution and the type of care it targeted never triggered an investigation prior to the directive.
Judge says the order ‘changed the status quo’ for transgender children
“The court further finds that gender-affirming care was not investigated as child abuse by DFPS until after February 22, 2022,” she said. The order, she added, “changed the status quo” for transgender children and their families.
“The governor’s directive was given the effect of new law or a new agency rule despite no new legislation, regulation, or even stated agency policy,” Meachum added.
The ruling came after a day-long hearing where the transgender teenager’s mother, identified by the pseudonym Jane Doe, testified after being placed on leave.
Camilla Taylor, the litigation director with Lambda Legal, told Houston Public Media the ruling brings relief for Texas families “who have been terrorized by this directive.”
“The person who testified today, who was the subject of an investigation based solely on the fact that she has a transgender daughter, testified that her daughter was afraid of being taken away from her parents and out of her home,” Taylor said. “This was absolutely inexcusable, and we’re very glad that the court took action to put a stop to it immediately.
The arguments in state court came at the same time DFPS, which is charged with the investigations, held public comments on its upcoming strategic plan. Several advocates for the LGBTQ+ community spoke out against the measure during the public meeting.
A separate family, the Briggles, who invited Paxton to dinner in 2016 in an effort to “put a human face” on the struggle for transgender rights and meet their transgender son, is also under investigation, mother Amy Briggle told the Texas Standard.
The state’s attorney general says he will take the battle to the Texas Supreme Court
Friday’s hearing came after Meachum last week temporarily blocked the DFPS’s investigative arm, Child Protective Services, from investigating the state employee’s family. Paxton appealed to a state appellate court but that effort was rejected. Paxton said the decision was due to the views of a “more liberal version of a judge” and said he would take his battle to the Texas Supreme Court, The Texas Newsroom reported.
“So we’re definitely going to appeal that and take it to the Texas Supreme Court. I have no doubt that the governor has the authority to do what he’s doing,” Paxton told The Mark Davis Show, a conservative radio program.
Because there was no public comment on the directive, 84 people showed up to the agency’s quarterly meeting Friday morning to speak against the governor’s directive, KUT reported. Another 130 people submitted public comment urging the agency not to follow the policy.
Friday’s action came a day after news broke that some children in a state-contracted facility that cares for victims of sex trafficking were abused by employees. Several employees at “The Refuge Ranch” in Bastrop, Texas have been accused of trafficking girls aged 11-17, Texas Public Radio reported.
Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community who oppose the state’s directive said the allegations out of Bastrop prove Texas leadership has its priorities out of order.
“We clearly have a lot of issues within the system that we need to address,” Emmett Schelling, the executive director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said during a news conference Friday.
“Attacking the parents of trans kids is not one. Ripping families apart is not one. Criminalizing parents who are doing their best to keep their kids alive in a state that tells trans people like me, we are not worthy, we should not be alive, our lives are not of any value to the state we love, to the state we call home [are not one]. But instead, here we are.”
Sara Willa Ernst of Houston Public Media and Andrew Weber of KUT contributed to this story.