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Texas governor calls to label gender-affirming care for trans kids as 'child abuse'

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has directed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate certain gender-affirming care for transgender children as possible child abuse. For people under 18, that usually includes things like hormones or puberty blockers, not surgery. The ACLU in Texas asked a state court today to block these investigations. Governor Abbott's order continues political moves that began last year when Texas banned transgender girls from participating in women's sports in public schools. NPR's Wade Goodwyn joins us from Dallas. Hi, Wade.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.

PFEIFFER: Wade, as you know, this issue of medical treatment for transgender kids has been a target of Texas Republican politicians and officeholders for years, but they have not been able to pass a law banning it entirely. Tell us about this latest move.

GOODWYN: Well, timing has got something to do with it. Texas has its state primary elections today. And for evangelical voters and other conservatives, too, this is a nod in their direction. The Texas attorney general issued a statement last week that was essentially a new interpretation of state law where he branded elements of transgender medical care as child abuse. And as you mentioned, Republicans have not been able to pass a law banning transgender treatment. Last year, it passed the Senate, but it went nowhere in the House, even though both are controlled by the GOP.

These latest statements by Ken Paxton, the attorney general, and Governor Abbott - they're interpretations that threaten legal penalties, but there's no force of law. But the threat of legal action certainly creates anxiety for hospitals, doctors and, of course, you know, the families involved in transgender treatment.

PFEIFFER: Sure. And so what has been the reaction from families with trans children who want or who might want this kind of health care?

GOODWYN: Well, it's not difficult to understand the sense of vulnerability from young people who are involved in transgender treatment and the parents and family members. You know, a child's assertion that he or she is a different gender identity often begins at a really young age, like, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years old. I mean, yes, of course, kids play dress-up and role-play, you know, someone who's a different sex all the time. But for transgender children, this is not that. They constantly identify as the other sex. And as they get older, it just grows stronger. You know - and this can break up marriages if one parent accepts it and the other won't.

When a medical clinic eventually does become involved, I mean, the first thing that happens is an extensive, multi-discipline evaluation. And, you know, sometimes, you know, if there's evidence of mental illness, the clinic's answer is no. They'll say, you know, mental health treatment, not transgender treatment is what's needed here. But, you know, when I've been talking to doctors who treat transgender patients, they told me that tends to be fairly rare.

PFEIFFER: Wade, there's almost a contradiction here, which is, as we said, the Texas Legislature has not passed a law banning treatment for trans kids, yet it's saying they may investigate families and kids for getting this kind of treatment. So if it's not illegal, what's the threat of being investigated?

GOODWYN: Well, let's say a neighbor or an extended family member who knows what's happening reports it as child abuse, and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services comes. And, of course, if a family gets contacted by protective services, that rocks a family emotionally. It makes everyone feel, you know, a powerful sense of fear and anxiety.

And so far, Family and Protective Services say they have received a handful of reports about transgender families that meet the description of the attorney general's opinion, but they've reported they have launched no investigations of child abuse. Obviously, that's not a guarantee it will never happen. Now, prosecution would require the DA's office to bring charges. And already, in the cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, which are controlled by the Democrats, the DAs in those cities have publicly announced they are not going to be prosecuting families with transgender patients.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas. Wade, thank you for covering this.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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