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‘It’s a rollercoaster': Texas families of trans youth are in limbo as state investigations continue

Trans Policy in Texas
Robin Rayne
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AP
Barbara Dale, from Atlanta, mother of a transgender child, waves sign reading "Love Knows No Gender" at Gay Pride Transgender March at Piedmont Park in the city's Midtown District in Atlanta, Ga, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Transgender medical treatment for children and teens is increasingly under attack in many states, labeled child abuse and subject to criminalizing bans. But it has been available in the United States for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations.

The state is appealing the decision by a Texas judge to stop investigations into families of trans youth.

A Travis County district court judge issued a temporary injunction on Friday in the PFLAG v. Abbott case. That briefly stopped the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from investigating families of trans youth who are a part of PFLAG, a national organization that supports LGBTQ+ families. But the state appealed the decision later that evening, which means investigations can continue.

Three Texas families and members of PFLAG, a national organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth and their loved ones, filed the lawsuit back in June against Gov. Greg Abbott, the state Department of Family and Protective Services, and Department Commissioner Jaime Masters to stop investigations into gender-affirming care for their trans youth.

Lambda Legal senior attorney Shelly Skeen said the legal back and forth is disheartening for families who are seeking medically necessary care for their kids.

“It’s a rollercoaster,” Skeen said. “One minute, they can be investigated, and the next minute, they can’t. Unfortunately, that’s how the legal process works.”

Skeen said other lawyers on the case, which include both the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas, along with Baker Botts LLP, are working out the next steps, but it's tough to know if or when the temporary injunction could be reinstated.

“The goal of that legal process is for the court to make the right decision based on the evidence, and that takes time,” Skeen said.

While investigations can and are continuing, she encourages people not to lose hope because “that’s not the end of the case. It’s just one moment in time that can change very quickly.”

If the temporary injunction is reinstated, it could still be appealed by the state up to the Supreme Court of Texas. The temporary injunction is a stopgap until the case goes to trial, which won’t be until June of 2023.

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Keren Carrión/KERA News
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Uncertain future for trans youth and their families in Texas

In the meantime, families are scared. PFLAG Executive Director Brian Bond said the organization is doing what they can for the families in the 17 chapters across the state of Texas, including those in Dallas, Houston and Austin.

“It breaks my heart to think that some kid out there is struggling because of what’s going on, and certainly the parents are struggling to do their best,” Bond said.

He believes this is politically motivated by Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who are both up for reelection this November.

“It has nothing to do with the health and well-being of kids,” Bond said. “It’s a stunt.”

Gender-affirming care practices, which can include everything from mental health support for gender dysphoria to puberty blockers, are supported by numerous medical associations across the United States. These practices improve mental health outcomes for trans young people. Multiple pediatric doctors reported that misinformation about gender-affirming care in places like Texas, New Hampshire, Kansas and Arizona, among others, undermines decades of research and clinical practice.

Bond and lawyer Shelly Skeen want families to know they are fighting for them, and will continue for as long as it takes.

“We’re here on behalf of trans adolescents and their families so they can continue receiving the type of care their doctors and mental health professionals say will allow them to thrive, grow, and become their healthiest, best selves,” Skeen said.

“We will ultimately win this,” Bond said. “There are lives at stake. There are kids, parents, and families, and we just have to keep pushing.”

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. 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.