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Trans kids, families and advocates feel unsafe as Texas moves to ban gender-affirming care

Rally participants holds a sign at the Texas Capitol
Alyssa Olvera
/
KUT
Rally participants holds a sign with the words, “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created,” in support of LGBTQ on the Texas Capitol steps to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation on March 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Alyssa Olvera/KUT)

Last fall, 16-year-old Corbin began looking into moving out of North Texas, where he lives with his father, Eric.

We’re not using their full names in the story because they feel unsafe given the current climate for trans youth and their families.

At the time, Texas state agencies were in the midst of investigating the families of trans youth.

Seven months later, Corbin’s still making plans.

“Me and my friend groups, we're getting ready as much as we can,” he said. “It's a difficult, long process to figure out what you want to do.

“Because it's not safe enough to stay, but we don't want to give them what they want.”

Ana Nguyen (she/her) holding a sign, "Transphobia makes baby Jesus cry" during a rally on Tuesday, May 2, 2023 in the Capitol rotunda ahead on a vote on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. (Patricia Lim/KUTX)
Patricia Lim
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KUT/KUTX
Ana Nguyen (she/her) holding a sign, "Transphobia makes baby Jesus cry" during a rally on Tuesday, May 2, 2023 in the Capitol rotunda ahead on a vote on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. (Patricia Lim/KUTX)

He’s talking about Texas lawmakers, who turned last year’s questions and lawsuits into proposed legislation this year—Senate Bill 14 and its House companion bill, HB 1686, would ban gender-affirming care practices for Texans under 18.

They would also revoke the medical licenses of anyone providing this care—such as surgeries, hormone therapy and puberty blockers. Gender-confirmation surgeries typically occur when patients are adults, and on a case-by-case basis in young adulthood.

Gender-affirming care, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs, can include medical interventions and non-medical interventions, like affirming someone’s name and pronouns.

These practices are widely endorsed by major medical associations like the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association. Gender-affirming health care and transition-related care have years of research outlining their importance in supporting the health and well-being of trans and gender non-conforming people.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, is one of the authors of SB 14 and first discussed the bill during a committee meeting in March. She said the bill is about “protecting children.”

“If a profession cannot regulate itself, and see where they are causing harm,” Campbell said, “somebody needs to step in there.”

LGBTQ-rights advocates hold a rally Tuesday in the Capitol rotunda ahead on a vote on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors on May 2, 2023. Christian singing group started singing in the rotunda while LGBTQ rights advocates protest around them. (Patricia Lim/KUT)
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
LGBTQ-rights advocates hold a rally Tuesday in the Capitol rotunda ahead on a vote on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors on May 2, 2023. Christian singing group started singing in the rotunda while LGBTQ rights advocates protest around them. (Patricia Lim/KUT)

Trans youth and their families in Texas say laws are about politics, not protecting kids

Lawmakers in the Texas Legislature are considering about 140 anti-LGBTQ+ bills this session, according to the 2023 bill tracker from Equality Texas, regarding issues like conversations about gender in schools to access to gender-affirming health care.

Watching what’s happening at the Capitol, Corbin said he and his friends in a local LGBTQ+ group for teens have been anxious.

“The majority of the group are minors, so we can't do anything but stress,” he said. “It's dangerous to go out in public and protest. So, we meet up, we hang out, we try and make good of what we can. The adults in the group are trying to help us, trying to keep us calm. But there’s not a whole lot we’re able to do.”

Families with trans kids who reached out to Texas legislators in the past were targeted in 2022 by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Both Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott issued directives to the department to investigate the parents and families of trans youth for providing gender-affirming care. While legal action has paused some of those investigations, there’s still not clarity on whether the department can resume them at any time.

Corbin’s dad said these months of back and forth have been difficult on everyone in the community.

“As a parent, it's tough for me, because not only are trans kids being targeted, but the parents of the kids are being targeted,” Eric said. “Obviously, they can't come out and say that they just want to get rid of the kids. So, they want to make sure that everybody is silenced.”

While supporters of SB 14 say the legislation would “prevent children and adolescents from being harmed by treatments and procedures” related to gender affirmation and transition, Eric said he believes it’s about political power.

“If you actually want to sit there and say that these laws are about protecting kids, you're either lying or incompetent,” Eric said.

Sheri Allen
Sheri Allen
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Makom Shelanu
Puck Glass and cantor Sheri Allen at Makom Shelanu's first service in Fort Worth. "It's so important for affirming clergy to show up," Allen said. "Even if it's just for the kids to know, there are religious people who affirm you, who care about you, who love you, and who will are willing to stand up for you."

Even for parents of trans adults, the potential impact of this legislation is overwhelming. Sheri Allen is a member of PFLAG Fort Worth, and the founder of Makom Shelanu, a religious Jewish congregation in Fort Worth that advocates for social justice issues. She’s lived in Texas for 30 years.

“Seeing the way that it has turned, over the last however many years, is just a combination of frightening, shocking, depressing,” Allen said. “Thinking about what [trans kids and their families] are going through, and how the place that they call home is no longer safe for them, it's overwhelmingly sad and tragic to me.”

Allen is also the parent of three LGBTQ adults, one who is trans, and said they’ve been nervous to come home to visit her in Texas. She said they’re scared of what might happen to them here.

“It's hard,” Allen said. “They never really stay too long. It has a serious, serious effect on our family and on my son's psyche, just knowing that our elected officials in the state that he considers home don't want him here or don't want him period. Want him erased. Want him punished for who he is. That's a lot.”

Members of the gallery leave the House chamber at the Texas Capitol where SB14 was being debated in Austin, Texas, Friday, May 5, 2023. SB14 would ban gender affirming health care for transgender children. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/AP
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AP
Members of the gallery leave the House chamber at the Texas Capitol where SB14 was being debated in Austin, Texas, Friday, May 5, 2023. SB14 would ban gender affirming health care for transgender children. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Trans adults in Texas worry about the future of health care

While a focus this legislative session has been on gender-affirming care access for trans youth, trans adults are also concerned about the impact the proposed laws could have on their lives.

One bill, SB 1029, would make doctors liable for any medical, mental health or pharmaceutical impact of transition-related care over a patient’s lifetime. Opponents say the bill could have a chilling effect on gender-affirming care access for all patients, not just trans youth.

Bertie Gardner is the community outreach and marketing manager for LGBTQ Saves, a community group in Fort Worth for LGBTQ+ youth. He said he’s worried the support and education he provides to young Texans might one day be illegal.

“Talking to the youth, and really hearing their perspective, it's been really heartbreaking,” Gardner said. “Because I want to be this source of positivity. But it has felt hard to do that this year.”

He said legislation is pushing out trans adults that kids need to see represented.

Rally participants hold signs in support of LGBTQ on the Texas Capitol
Alyssa Olvera
/
KUT
Rally participants hold signs in support of LGBTQ on the Texas Capitol steps to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation on March 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Alyssa Olvera/KUT)

“The state is just slowly making it uninhabitable,” he said. “Lately, I've been having a lot of high anxiety. And it's been hard for me to leave the house. It’s felt very hard to decompress.”

Gardner went to Austin at the end of March to testify against HB 1686, the bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans kids under 18. He sat for 13 hours, waiting for a chance to share his thoughts with the House Committee on Public Health.

Lawmakers shut down public comment around midnight, before Gardner and others could testify in front of the committee.

In his recorded comments against the bill, he discussed how special it was to be “an older sibling to many transgender youth,” but cautioned that bills like HB 1686 “seek to remove trans youth from society by denying them the ability to access healthcare.”

Reflecting on his experience, Gardner said it felt like the chair didn’t want to listen to him or any other trans person who came to speak out against the bill.

“It's so frustrating, because these kids exist,” Gardner said. “Whether or not you believe in them, they're still here.”

Cynthia Lee Fontaine performs in front of the crowd rallied outside the Texas Capitol steps to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation on March 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Alyssa Olvera/KUT)
Alyssa Olvera
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KUT
Cynthia Lee Fontaine performs in front of the crowd rallied outside the Texas Capitol steps to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation on March 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Alyssa Olvera/KUT)

“Now, more than ever, our youth are needing to see adults in their corner.”

Gardner said despite the fear, he’s grateful to provide a space for LGBTQ+ youth to feel encouraged and supported, and to create moments of trans joy.

“It's really awesome to be in this space where I am able to provide a lot of the things that I didn't have growing up as a young queer person in Texas,” he said. “We’re trying to make it fun and enjoy the fact that we’re still here, even in a state that’s trying to drive us away.”

The legislative session ends on May 29, which means discussion and debate about LGBTQ+ issues are only going to ramp up in the coming weeks.

For 16-year-old Corbin, meetups with the LGBTQ+ group he’s a part of have helped him weather the ups and downs of the legislative session.

“Having just a short time in a safer space with people who understand me, it's comforting,” Corbin said. “It's giving hope that there are people helping, but that's really the most I can do.”

Eric, Corbin’s dad, wants to tell legislators, “don’t protect your homophobia, protect the kids.” He’s encouraged by seeing people show up in Austin at the Capitol and around the state in support trans youth.

“That makes things a little hopeful that, at some point, we can probably make a change,” Eric said. “It's going to take more people being more forceful about putting facts out there, instead of letting them continue to spew opinionated rhetoric.”

Gardner recommends people also support organizations that are helping trans and LGBTQ+ youth navigate these times.

“Now, more than ever, our youth are needing to see adults in their corner, especially with all of the hate they're receiving on all sides,” he said. “So do what you can. Call your legislator, send them postcards decorated with glitter. Really try to make your voice heard this season, too.”

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.