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Health & Wellness

Restraining order allows parents of trans children to book appointments. But will it last?

A transgender pride flag — striped with two light blue stripes, two pink stripes, and one white in the center — flies on a flag pole.
Flickr/gazeronly
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Parents of transgender children and advocates share their concerns as fights over gender-affirming care play out in county and state courts.

Dozens of families have called to book appointments at Children's Medical Center Dallas while a temporary restraining order bans the clinic from denying new patients gender-affirming care. Though a bright spot for families searching for care, some parents and advocates are worried it won't last as debates over medical care for transgender youths continue.

By Friday evening, more than 50 families had called Dr. Ximena Lopez for an appointment, attorney Charla Aldous says. Lopez supervised the Genecis Clinic, which UT Southwestern and Children's Medical Center Dallas quietly closed amid mounting political pressure from conservative challenges to trans-affirming health care access.

Leslie McMurray with the advocacy group Resource Center calls the agency that once hosted the Genecis clinic the "heartbeat" for transgender patients. While open, the center was the sole multi-disciplinary center for children, she says.

“Being around people in one place that are familiar with you and know who you are makes it a whole lot easier, and taking that away was like pulling a rug out from under people," McMurray says.

The two-week order allows Lopez to see new patients seeking counseling or hormone therapy for the first time since the clinic's closure in November, under the grounds that Children's Medical cannot discriminate based on gender identity. Aldous says Lopez had already seen two patients as of Monday morning.

"One of the mothers was just so emotional and so grateful that she was finally able to get her child the care that her child needed, so it's just had a big, big impact," Aldous says.

Representatives at UT Southwestern and Children's Medical declined comment, citing pending litigation.

The ruling followed months of urging from hundreds of hospital employees and families to reopen services to new patients.

Myriam Reynolds, a parent who signed a petition, heard from families who booked appointments shortly after the order went into effect. While she's happy for them, Reynolds fears future legal bouts.

"I don't mean to be negative either. I'm not trying to be like, 'Oh, this news is nothing.' These are steps, and I'm certainly happy for the families who got in for sure, but I just don't know," she says.

Reynolds moved her family from Colorado in 2017 and sought out Lopez's care. Her teenage son, Cameron, could keep seeing Lopez because he became a patient before the clinic's closure. However, the legal challenges and political climate mean Reynolds has had to check in several times to make sure Cameron can keep receiving care.

"The answer that I got is good news, but it sort of feels tentative, it feels unsure still. It's almost like until it happens ... I guess there's a part of me that doesn't get too excited because I feel like there's still just a huge fight ahead," she says.

State lifts injunctions on investigating parents

While McMurray says the temporary restraining order Dallas County Judge Melissa Bellan issued last Thursday was a "bright spot," she worries more restrictions will follow for the clinic and health care access for trans youth statewide.

“My sincere hope is that this will be granted as a permanent injunction and they can just go back to doing what they’re doing, but I’ve just not seen anything in the state of Texas that has any quit in it," McMurray says.

A day after Lopez was granted a temporary restraining order, the Texas State Supreme Court lifted an injunction preventing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from investigating families of children receiving gender-affirming care as child abuse.

The ruling did not bind the department to act on an order from Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate families or Attorney General Ken Paxton's legal opinion that gender-affirming health care qualifies as abuse.

Attorneys representing state agencies did not immediately return requests for comment.

Reynolds says the legal battle over gender-affirming care as child abuse adds insult to injury because she is a licensed professional counselor who has worked with the foster care system. She's unsure what would happen to her license if she were investigated for abuse.

"The potential to be considered one of those parents when I've done nothing but try to help this kid is horrifying. It's scary, it just feels wildly unfair. It just feels like a gross misuse of resources," Reynolds says.

Asked about the Texas Supreme Court ruling's potential impact on Lopez's case, Aldous says her team predict UT Southwestern and Children's Medical will appeal the case if Lopez receives a permanent injunction and favorable ruling.

"We knew we had an uphill battle and it's going to be a long process, but we're in for the long haul," she says.

In the meantime, advocates like McMurray are urging families to book appointments.

“If I had a message for a family that had a child who is entering into the early stages of puberty and wanted to access that kind of care that I would do so right away. That would be your best chance for getting that kind of care in the state of Texas right now," McMurray says.

Solomon Wilson contributed reporting to this article.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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