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Trans kids and allies in Texas face anxiety as legal battle over gender-affirming care continues

Transgender Youth Texas
Eric Gay
/
Associated Press
FILE - Demonstrators gather on the steps to the State Capitol to speak against transgender-related legislation bills being considered in the Texas Senate and Texas House, Thursday, May 20, 2021 in Austin, Texas. A Texas judge on Friday, March 11, 2022 blocked the state from investigating as child abuse gender confirming care for transgender youth. District Judge Amy Clark Meachum issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from enforcing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to compel the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate.

Trans kids across Texas are anxious as a legal battle plays out that could determine whether their parents can be prosecuted for providing them gender-affirming medical care. But there's help available.

When Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton both declared gender-affirming care for trans kids in Texas "child abuse" at the end of February, a community member texted Bertie Gardner at work: "Have you seen this?"

"I remember my own feelings, just being flabbergasted, and not knowing what was going on, because it was just so sudden," said Gardner.

He's the community outreach and marketing manager for LGBTQ Saves, a Fort Worth-based organization that provides support to LGBTQ youth and their families in North Texas. Since the group shifted to virtual programming during the pandemic, he said around 80 to 100 kids participate a month. A large proportion of those kids are trans, or questioning their gender.

"It hit me super hard, not only as a trans person, but as someone who has formed so many relationships with these kids," Gardner said. "Some of our kids, their parents know that they're with our group, they support them. And some of our kids are just beginning to explore what it means to come out. This caused more immediate concern."

Statements on trans youth healthcare from Texas leaders are part of a larger pattern

Gardner said it's not only been a tough few weeks, but it's been a tough few months. Last year's Texas legislative session passed a bill that banned trans athletes from playing sports at school. Other bills that were proposed, but didn't pass, mirrored Gov. Abbott and Paxton's statements on investigating and criminalizing families and physicians providing gender-affirming care to trans youth. In Dallas, one of the only clinics offering care for trans youth patients closed down in December, due to political pressure from Texas leaders and the fear of lawsuits.

Gardner said all these factors are affecting trans youth in Texas, but young people who haven't come out yet are hit the hardest.

"They saw it as, 'I can't come out, because then I'll be taken away from my family, and I don't want that. I don't want to cause issues for my family,'" he said. "There's just been this overwhelming dread within our group, and we've been trying to keep it positive."

He's also concerned for himself.

"These past couple of weeks have been really rocky, as I'm hearing a lot of things and facing my own fears of being a trans person in Texas," said Gardner. "Because you're going after the kids, what is going to stop you from going after the adults? What's going to stop you from saying that all affirming care is not legal anymore?"

Texas Rally ' Protect Transgender Texans
Erich Schlegel
/
Associated Press
LGBTQ advocates including representatives from Equality Texas, the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), Texas Freedom Network, ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal, medical and health care professionals, and parents of transgender children rally at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in Austin to stop proposed medical care ban legislation that would criminalize gender-affirming care.

Local organizations are providing a safe haven for trans youth and their families

It's a confusing time for parents and supporters. The latest legal update put a temporary stop to the state's investigation of families for "child abuse," but Paxton later said on Twitter that the investigations would continue.

Jim Patterson is the president of the Dallas chapter of PFLAG, a national advocacy group for LGBTQ people and their allies. He's fielded questions from parents over the past few weeks and helped them get legal advice to keep up with the changes.

"I have a lot of faith and hope that it will turn back around, but there's just been so much damage done," said Patterson. "It's gonna make that road harder and longer."

Kamryn Shelton is a volunteer with Youth First, a program hosted by LGBTQ organization Resource Center in Dallas. He said at first he was relieved he was over 18, so he wouldn't have to deal with Child Protective Services. But he points out that's not the case for the younger trans kids he works with.

"If someone expresses that it's freaking them out or making them nervous, we tell them that we're doing everything in our power to keep this from happening," Shelton said. "We reiterate that their safety is the most important thing to us."

He said losing access to a gender-affirming doctor and hormone therapy is harmful mentally and physically.

"I feel like we’re going backwards in time, instead of being more progressive," said Shelton. "I hate it."

Shelton, Patterson and Bertie Gardner with LGBTQ Saves in Fort Worth all said now is the time for allies to be supportive by voicing their concerns with legislators.

"So yes, give the trans youth in your life a hug, tell them that you're there for them and that you're fighting for them," Gardner said. "But make sure that it's followed up with a phone call or an email, [so that] the state of Texas knows that we won't allow this to go on."

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

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