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Local district and county attorneys push back against Texas directive on transgender medical care

A sign reads "Protect Trans Kids."
Evan L'Roy
/
The Texas Tribune
Protesters participate in a rally against anti-trans legislation at the southern steps of the state Capitol on April 28, 2021.

An attorney general’s opinion equating some medical care for transgender youth to child abuse has led to a growing list of local officials who condemn the interpretation as little more than political theatre.

There is growing opposition from local prosecutors to a legal opinion by Attorney General Ken Paxton that asserted some gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths amounts to child abuse.

Paxton issued a non-binding opinion Monday that certain “sex-change” procedures and the prescribing of puberty-blockers to certain children is “child abuse” under Texas law and said the Texas Department of Family Protective Services has a responsibility to “act accordingly.”

Paxton’s opinion was followed by a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott to the Texas DFPS “to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas”.

Since then, at least five district attorneys’ offices have issued public statements blasting Paxton and Abbott. On Thursday the district attorneys of Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Nueces and Fort Bend counties said they were “deeply disturbed” by the actions.

“This is part of a continued onslaught on personal freedoms,” the district attorneys said. “Elected officials should be protecting our most vulnerable. These two, instead, want to irrationally target and restrain children seeking medical assistance – and force caregivers to participate. This is un-American.”

The group added that it will, “Enforce the Constitution and will not irrationally and unjustifiably interfere with medical decisions made between children, their parents and their medical physicians.”

In a subsequent statement, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said his office would not prosecute those who provide medical care.

"Simply declaring medical care abusive does not make it so. Without abuse or neglect, family members, medical professionals, teachers and other members of the community have no obligation to report child abuse," he said. "As such, our office would not prosecute the family members, medical professionals, teachers and others who provide medical care, unconditional love and emotional support for this vulnerable population."

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee was also quick to rebuke the opinion and subsequent order in a statement where he said that as the leader of the office charged with representing the DFPS in civil child abuse cases, he would not take part in “bad faith political games.” Menefee also questioned the timing of Paxton’s opinion, as the incumbent attorney general is currently in a contested primary election where recent polls indicate a close race.

“There's a political angle here and my office won't participate in those games,” he said Thursday. Menefee added, not only did he disagree with Paxton’s interpretation of the law, but that it had no legal authority. Menefee likened it to a private citizen calling their attorney to ask for an opinion on a legal matter.

But he said Paxton issuing his interpretation will still have a chilling effect on trans children and their families.

“It's not binding, but it's going to have a real impact,” said Menefee. “Because now these families are under threat of investigation. Some of them may actually be investigated by DFPS. And in counties that aren't Harris County, some of them may have to go to court. It's a travesty that they're using the law to play political games. I'm just grateful that it's only an opinion, but it will do real damage and real detriment to the families.”

Neither Paxton or Abbott’s offices responded to a request for comment about the county and district attorneys’ statements.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services said the agency will follow the law "as explained by the Attorney General opinion" but that as of Monday when Paxton issued his opinion, there were no pending cases on the matter.

Equal rights groups have also blasted Republican lawmakers in what they say is the latest attack on transgender Texans.

The Texas Freedom Network said Paxton is again showing his disregard for children, KUT reported.

“In a state where we’ve seen attack after attack on the lives of transgender children, Ken Paxton is once again showing his disregard for children’s lives,” Texas Freedom Network president Val Benavidez said in a statement, according to KUT. “It is abundantly clear that Paxton sees transgender children as nothing more than political pawns. Their safety is certainly not his concern.”

The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based advocacy group, said on its website it will direct Texans affected by the opinion or any false accusations to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas or Lambda Legal for assistance.

“We are actively monitoring this and working to ensure that transgender youth continue to thrive here in Texas,” the TFN said.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.