Families of trans children sue to halt Texas child abuse policy

AUSTIN — Three more families with transgender children are suing to block abuse investigations the state has opened against them, adding to the litigation Texas faces after deeming certain gender-affirming medical treatments child abuse earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Travis County, asks the court to block the three investigations and any others into families with transgender children who are members of the nonprofit advocacy group for families and allies of LGBTQ people known as PFLAG.

The lawsuit is being led by Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Texas and PFLAG.

“Loving and affirming your child and empowering them to be themselves is the highest calling of any parent, no matter your child’s gender,” Brian K. Bond, Executive Director of PFLAG National, said in a statement. “If it takes a court ruling to ensure that the law protects families who lead with love in support of transgender Texans, so be it.”

This is the second lawsuit targeting the state’s February decision to begin investigating certain gender-affirming care as child abuse. That decision was based on a non-binding opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said using puberty blockers and hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria in minors is abuse, and a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate reports of Texans under the age of 18 receiving such care.

Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed the first lawsuit in March on behalf of a family whose teen daughter was receiving such care. Last month, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily halted the probe into that family, which has remained anonymous, while the litigation is ongoing. The court also ruled that the governor did not have the authority to force DFPS to undertake such investigations in the first place.

Days later, however, DFPS restarted several other investigations into families with transgender children. At of March, they had opened at least nine cases.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks to halt at least three of them.

Texas Supreme Court says governor cannot order trans child abuse investigations

Adam and Amber Briggle, who have a transgender son and have been one of the few families to publicly comment on the investigation into their family, are parties to the suit, as are the parents of two other transgender minors who go by the pseudonym Mirabel Voe and Wanda Roe in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit laid out the Voe family’s story: Mirabel Voe’s transgender son — given the pseudonym Antonio in the lawsuit — started hormone therapy in January and the treatment was improving his mood and anxiety. But the same day Abbott issued his directive, Antonio attempted to commit suicide by ingesting a bottle of aspirin. He was admitted to the hospital.

“Antonio said that the political environment, including Abbott’s letter, and being misgendered at school, led him to take these actions,” the lawsuit says.

On March 11, the Voe family was visited by child protective services. Mirabel Voe thought that visit might be due to the suicide attempt, the lawsuit states, but she was instead told it was because she was an “alleged perpetrator” of abuse because her transgender son was allowed to access gender-affirming medical treatments.

“The investigator told her that the report of ‘child abuse’ originated from the outpatient psychiatric facility where Antonio had been seeking help,” the lawsuit states.

Wanda’s transgender son, called Tommy in the suit, was pulled out of class after Abbott’s directive and questioned by a CPS investigator, according to the lawsuit.

“After the interview, Tommy was shaking and upset,” the suit stated. “He had missed close to half an hour of class time and did not know what to tell others about why he had been called to the office.”

Later that day, the CPS investigator came to the Roe home and asked Tommy’s mother and stepfather whether they had ever abused him, forced him to transition or to accept medical treatments associated with his transition. They said ‘no.’

The lawsuit stated that Tommy’s grades have deteriorated since the interview.

The Briggle family has long been open about their son’s transition, attending legislative hearings and political rallies supporting the right of transgender Texans. In an attempt to breach the political gap, they even had Paxton to dinner in 2016. But the state’s new abuse policy has caused them to become fearful of their family’s safety.

“For the first time, they have installed cameras outside of their home,” the lawsuit reads. “They have been followed in their car, and yelled at by a person in another vehicle.”

Age appropriate and individualized medical treatments for trans youth, including the ones Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called abuse, are supported by the state and nation’s largest physicians groups including the American and Texas Medical Associations.

These groups have opposed the state’s abuse investigations and other efforts to block or alter gender-affirming care for minors.

Texas’ Republican politicians have placed more and more attention on medical treatments for transgender youth in recent months. Last year, state lawmakers debated bills to crack down on gender affirming health care for minors but failed to pass anything into law.

Then, in November, the first and largest medical program for transgender children in North Texas stopped accepting new patients for treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy. A doctor who has sued to successfully resume these treatments while the decision litigated said it was made under political pressure.

Paxton is seeking to intervene in that lawsuit on behalf of the state.

Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s directive were issued a few months later, just weeks before the most competitive GOP primary election season in a decade. Both men are seeking re-election, and at the time faced GOP primary challengers who pressured them to target gender-affirming care more aggressively.

Abbott and Paxton easily beat their primary challengers. Both face Democratic opponents in November.

The Briggles told The Dallas Morning News last month that they believe the child abuse investigations are motivated by election year politics.

“This has been political since day one,” said Amber Briggle, who recently welcomed Abbott’s Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke to dinner. “They’re not going to close [our case] unless they’re forced to by the courts.”

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