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As Texas leaders target trans kids and families, local organizations rally in support

Dallas residents at the "Pride For Black Lives Matter" protest in June of 2020.
Keren Carrión
Nell Gaither, with Dallas-based organization Trans Pride Initiative, is concerned about lasting mental health effects on trans kids in Texas. Texas leaders have called gender-affirming care "child abuse," and called on state organizations to investigate families and providers offering supportive health services. "I just don’t see this as an isolated problem," Gaither said. "I see it as the first step in what is gonna be an immense problem in the coming years.”

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton's statements on gender-affirming care for trans youth in Texas are making things difficult for advocates and families. Community organizations in the state are rallying in support.

Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride Initiative based in Dallas, was focused on answering letters from trans and queer prisoners in the state when there was a sudden influx of donations to the organization.

"I didn't hear about it initially," she said. "It was kind of strange. We started getting donations at a pace that we don't usually see, and I started wondering, 'What's going on?' It was in response to Gov. Abbott's announcement, and I hadn't seen it yet."

After that, she and other organizations in North Texas started gathering support to respond to leader's statements on trans kids in the state.

Texas leaders have called gender-affirming care "child abuse"

Back in August of 2021, Gov. Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate whether gender confirmation surgery was considered "child abuse." Gender confirmation surgery is only recommended for patients 18 or older, according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health's Standards of Care for physicians and practitioners.

More recently, both Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton expanded their questions about "child abuse" to include puberty blockers, which are a form of hormone therapy for teens who have experienced prolonged gender dysphoria. Puberty blockers are part of a clinical approach that decreases depression and suicidality for trans and gender non-conforming youth, according to a 2021 article in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The governor then directed DFPS to investigate any instances of "child abuse." In Abbott's directive, teachers, physicians and psychologists would be required to report.

"I feel a sense of disbelief that this is happening," Gaither said. "There's also a sense of, this is just the first step."

Carter Brown is the executive director of the National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, based in Carrollton. The organization helps connect Black trans adults with health, housing and employment resources. He says there are already barriers for trans adults to access gender-affirming care, like knowledgeable providers, access, discrimination and affordability.

"Getting help or access that the general public gets can seem minor to someone else, but for a trans person, it feels like, 'I'm human. Somebody saw my humanity,'" Brown said.

Trans organizations in Texas are part of networks of support for the community

Keren Carrión
Carter Brown with the National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition said finding supportive healthcare for trans people is an essential part of affirming their humanity. "It means that there’s someone who understands, or even if they don’t understand, that they care," Brown said. "They empathize with my humanity.”

These statements from Texas leaders have also left providers and advocates worried about the mental health of trans kids in Texas and the hurdles this might create for accessing life-saving healthcare. The state has opened investigations into some families, but there's currently a legal back-and-forth in Texas lower courts questioning the legality of these proceedings.

"As children, the way that we're socialized is so important to the type of adult that we'll grow to be," Brown said. "If everybody is telling you that you're wrong or you don't fit, or even more so, that you'll be punished along with your parents for living the way that you are, what message is that for a child? How could that not be detrimental to anybody's mental health?"

Both Carter Brown and Nell Gaither said their work hasn't shifted, as they primarily serve adults, but it's affirmed the continued need to be vocal about the needs of trans people across Texas. Gaither has started a letter writing campaign to help community members contact state leaders, while Brown has answered phone calls from families looking for resources.

"I just don't see this as an isolated problem," said Gaither. "The motivation behind this is not just motivation against trans kids. While today it might be considered child abuse for affirming a trans kid, next week it might be considered child abuse to have a kid in a family with same gender parents. It's [people] who feel they have some inherent right to define the parameters of social existence for everyone."

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

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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.