Parents of Transgender Youth Fear Texas Orders : Short Wave Texas Governor Greg Abbott has directed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate certain gender-affirming care as possible child abuse, leaving parents of transgender youth feeling caught between two choices: support their children or face a possible investigation. Annaliese and Rachel are mothers living in Texas and both have transgender children. They speak to NPR about the emotional and mental toll this order has had on their families. And while the order is currently blocked by a judge, Chase Strangio, Deputy Director for Transgender Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union, explains the status of other anti-LGBTQ bills in other states.

Parents Of Transgender Youth Fear Texas' Anti-Trans Orders

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EMILY KWONG, HOST:

You're listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.

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AARON SCOTT, HOST:

Hey, SHORT WAVErs. Aaron Scott here. You might have been following the news in recent weeks about how Texas' governor and attorney general have directed the state to investigate the parents and health care providers of transgender children for child abuse. Or maybe it even affects your family. So today on the show, we're bringing you a conversation NPR host Ailsa Chang and our colleagues at Consider This had with two mothers of trans kids in Texas, as well as with Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on trans rights. Since the Consider This episode aired, a judge blocked Texas from investigating parents. However, the state's attorney general is appealing and claims the directive is still in effect.

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AILSA CHANG: In Texas, a letter from Governor Greg Abbott has left many parents feeling caught between two choices - either support their transgender children or face a possible child abuse investigation.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He wants the state to investigate parents who allow their children to transition gender, saying they should be charged with child abuse.

CHANG: This came days after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion saying that certain types of transgender health care, like puberty blockers or surgery, can legally constitute child abuse.

RACHEL: When the governor's letter came out, that's when parents really started to panic.

ANNELISE: To me, the immediate instinct was just terror.

CHANG: Annelise (ph) and Rachel (ph) are both mothers who live in Texas. We're not going to use their last names or their children's names for their safety. Annelise says she and Rachel are merely supporting their transgender children.

ANNELISE: No legal scholar, every major medical association - over 600,000 physicians - do not classify this care as abuse.

CHANG: In fact, both national and Texas-based health care organizations say that gender-affirming care is the best way to care for transgender children.

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CHASE STRANGIO: What's happening here is that parents and adolescents are following the recommendations of doctors.

CHANG: Chase Strangio is deputy director for transgender justice with the American Civil Liberties Union. He points out that Attorney General Paxton's opinion is nonbinding - in other words, it doesn't actually change the law.

STRANGIO: Nothing should have changed. But unfortunately, DFPS started investigating families.

CHANG: And the ACLU and Lambda Legal have filed a lawsuit to block those investigations. A hearing's scheduled for the end of this week to consider a statewide injunction.

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CHANG: In the meantime, some families in Texas have already had visits from Child Protective Services.

STRANGIO: This is incredibly extreme. This is an abrupt, immediate intrusion into the rights and medical needs of a whole population of adolescent young people in Texas.

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CHANG: For a transgender minor, any transgender minor, the focus for them is more on their social transition rather than any medical treatment - you know, like changing their name and pronouns, wearing different clothes.

STRANGIO: You know, a lot of the rhetoric around particularly these anti-trans health bills is grounded in misinformation. And a lot of times that comes in the form of falsely claiming that, for example, kids are getting surgery when, of course, this is untrue. Surgery is not indicated until 18 and only after significant oversight and mental health evaluations.

CHANG: Consider this - states across the U.S. introduced more than 100 bills in 2021 to restrict LGBTQ rights. More bills continue to be introduced this year, and many specifically target transgender people and youth. We talked to two mothers who say they just want to do what they can to keep their children happy and healthy, and that includes gender-affirming care.

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CHANG: From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang.

It's Consider This from NPR.

Annelise's nonbinary child is 9 years old. Rachel's transgender daughter is 11. And when we spoke, I asked them, how do you even explain what's happening in Texas to your children? Like, where do you even begin? Rachel says she remembers the moment she had this conversation with her daughter. Her daughter's always been good at picking up on emotions around her.

RACHEL: She actually didn't know what was going on, but she walked in from school and burst into tears.

CHANG: Because she could feel it.

RACHEL: Mmm hmm.

CHANG: Wow.

RACHEL: I'm going to start crying talking about it. But once I explained to her what Abbott was doing, that it was a week before primaries, she kind of calmed down and was - because this isn't a new battle for her. Unfortunately, she's been fighting for her humanity for the majority of her childhood. So it kind of gave her a moment of, oh, more of the same - OK, well, moving on. But then we had to let our children know that there's a possibility that people might try to come and speak to them in their schools, might show up at our house. And all of our children, especially my middle daughter, I mean, she's been up all night crying, having nightmares that my husband and I disappear.

CHANG: Wow.

RACHEL: I mean, Annelise and I and many other parents across the state work really, really hard to ensure that our kids are safe everywhere they go.

CHANG: Absolutely. How about you, Annelise? Your child, they're 9. Do you think they fully grasp what is happening right now in Texas?

ANNELISE: Oh, I hope to God they don't because, quite frankly, as their parent and their protector, I'm terrified. I would never, ever, ever want my child to feel the feeling that I'm experiencing right now. You know, I told both of my kids, this is something that's happening. It doesn't change anything. This is not legal. We're still doing everything we can to keep you safe. And that means we have to talk to lawyers. That means we have to talk to, you know, organizations - advocacy organizations, understand our rights, understand your rights. And this is what child abuse is, and this is what it isn't, et cetera. That was a terrifying conversation to have that my child immediately started sobbing. And then for days after that, I was getting questions like, Mom, who's going to adopt me whenever people come to our house?

CHANG: Oh, my God.

ANNELISE: Mom, what if the foster care family that I have to go to, what if they don't know the kind of (crying) foods that I like to eat? And those are the things that we're hearing from our kids, that they're just so scared. And at the same time, my God, how brave. You know, the real impact is not even on us; it's on our kids having to think through, like, how am I going to change my daily life for whenever I'm ripped away from my parent? No child deserves that trauma.

CHANG: I want to step back for a moment and talk about when each of your children first started talking to you about their gender identity or when you first started realizing who they were. Can you talk about the moment when you began to understand the gender identity of your children?

ANNELISE: For me, as a parent, I sort of knew they're not presenting typically, and that's totally fine. I had no idea where we would end up.

CHANG: You felt completely OK with it from the beginning?

ANNELISE: Hundred percent. I think it was around age 7, early age 7. We were driving to church, and my child just said, hey, everybody in the car, I'm going to start using they/them pronouns. That's who I am now.

CHANG: Wow.

ANNELISE: This was so natural to them, even though as a parent, the hate that the LGBTQ+ community gets - my immediate fear around that was, oh, my God, is my child going to be allowed to grow up safely? And I put it out of my mind. And that's unfortunately a conversation I now have to revisit daily - is my child actually safe in Texas just being authentically who they are? And it's just these extremist leaders who now make me question my child's safety every single day.

CHANG: Yeah. Rachel, what about you? Do you remember when your daughter first came to understand, I am a girl?

RACHEL: So there was never a time that she didn't identify as a girl. It was more so of a process of my husband and I coming to terms with what we needed to do to support her. By the time she was 3, she was emphatically wanting to choose girls' clothes. But my husband, he really tried to push her into sports and things that he identified with his own masculinity. So it created some pretty significant problems in my marriage because my husband and I were at odds about it. But at the time, you know, I didn't know if I just had an effeminate son or, you know, what we were looking at.

But by the time she was 5, my other daughter had received a lot of Christmas presents that were, you know, very gender-stereotypical for a little girl. And then my older daughter had received very masculine-stereotypical little boy gifts, and it was just like the straw that broke the camel's back. And after a year, really, of her being in this downward spiral of going from this super outgoing, extroverted, super sweet, fun little kid, she would hide behind me in public. She started acting out at school. We had to have a meeting with her teacher. And when I sat down to talk to her about it, she just broke down and said that she needed Santa to turn her into a girl and that she could only have girl toys and girl clothes.

And it was at that point that my husband really recognized what we needed to do to support her. And it's who she is and who she needs to be. And it was a matter of the rest of us transitioning to understand and support her. And to be very clear, that means I took her to the girls' department to shop for clothes. She was already growing her hair out. And she changed her name and pronouns. There is nothing medical that goes into a child transitioning at that age.

CHANG: You know, both Governor Abbott and the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, they not only support the idea that transition care, like surgery, is child abuse, but also other treatments like, say, puberty blockers or hormone therapy are examples of child abuse. What do you think are the most common misconceptions when it comes to gender-affirming treatments?

ANNELISE: Rachel and I have both talked about this. Transition for young kids is so low stakes and simple. It's literally just wearing clothing that makes you feel good. It's using a name - maybe a different name, maybe the same name - that makes you feel good. It's wearing your hair a certain way. And I think the intention here is - from political extremists - is to promulgate the most shocking rhetoric available to scare people into thinking that dangerous things are happening with transgender kids and transgender people. It's really not. All of this is considered safe, evidence-based, standard practice, medically necessary care. And it's highly individualized and personalized. And it should remain private. You know, at the end of the day, no child's medical care should be weaponized for political gain - no child. Every child deserves the ability to have private medical care and to not have it publicized and politicized.

CHANG: I know that there are people out there who are saying things like, you know, the solution for people like the two of you - the solution is out there. Just leave Texas. Just get out of Texas. How does that make you feel when people say things like that to you?

RACHEL: It makes me big mad (laughter). It makes me - I can't tell you the number of times I have gotten really worked up just saying, stop telling us to leave our homes. These are our homes, our community, our family, our friends. We do not want this. And if we leave, there are thousands and thousands of families who are stuck here without someone to advocate for them. We need help. We need help fighting this. We need the federal government to step in. We need our allies to stand up and say, this is not right.

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CHANG: That was Annelise and Rachel, mothers of transgender children living in Texas.

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CHANG: Now, let's just step back for a moment because Texas is not the only state with something like this on the books. Here's Chase Strangio again, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU.

STRANGIO: We're seeing a staggering number of bills being introduced across the country targeting specifically transgender young people.

CHANG: More than a dozen states have introduced bills to ban the prescription of puberty blockers and hormone therapy to minors, treatments that are reversible, as well as gender-affirming surgical procedures. Other bills would prohibit transgender youth from participating in sports according to their gender identity. And there is legislation out there that would make it a felony to provide medical treatment to a transgender minor.

STRANGIO: So you have this nationally coordinated, well-funded effort to restrict the ability, particularly of trans people, to be who they are, talk about who they are and safely live in their homes.

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CHANG: The White House called Governor Abbott's directive, quote, "a cynical and dangerous campaign." And during his State of the Union address, President Biden spoke directly to transgender youth.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'll always have your back as your president so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.

CHANG: In Texas, Annelise says President Biden's words do offer some comfort.

ANNELISE: The fact that our president stood in front of the nation and acknowledged that transgender children exist, acknowledged that the federal government owes them protection and that he intends to follow through on that is critical. And I think that's what our families will be looking for moving forward.

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CHANG: In the meantime, she and Rachel and parents like them are doing the best they can to cope with the uncertainty of what comes next.

It's Consider This from NPR. I'm Ailsa Chang.

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