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Gender-affirming care may continue at Texas clinic while lawsuit heads to trial

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Trans youth in Texas can continue to seek gender-affirming care at a major clinic in Dallas, at least for now. A court ruling yesterday allows the clinic to care for current patients and take new ones while a lawsuit makes its way to trial. Statewide gender-affirming treatment was called into question after Texas leadership branded it child abuse. From member station KUT in Austin, Andrew Weber reports on one family that's crossed state lines to get their son treatment.

ANDREW WEBER, BYLINE: Kari calls herself a mama bear. It's a term moms of trans kids have adopted because they have to fight to protect their children. We're withholding Kari's last name because the care she provides for her teenage son has been classified as child abuse, and she fears she'll be investigated. When her son came out as trans at 14, she looked into treatment.

KARI: You know, my son was like, this is what I want.

WEBER: She got him testosterone shots. Next, he wanted chest masculinization surgery, telling her...

KARI: I know exactly where I want my nipples to be. I just - I know everything. Like, I just need somebody to do the surgery. And the surgeon was like, all right, we'll do it.

WEBER: Kari made an appointment last August. Days later, the state legislature took up a bill to ban gender-affirming care. The doctor canceled. In February, she rescheduled. But at the last minute, that doctor said...

KARI: The hospital is refusing to allow the surgery to proceed because your son is transgender and youth. He's a trans youth.

WEBER: They were devastated. Again, bad timing, Kari says. Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton had just directed Child Protective Services, or CPS, to investigate families seeking gender-affirming care for minors and doctors for providing it. It's left Texas families scrambling.

Last month, Kari was referred to a New Orleans clinic. The trip cost more than the surgery, but Kari says it was worth it.

KARI: He's so much more himself and who he has always been because of this, because this surgeon stepped in and helped us.

WEBER: Her son continues to get testosterone shots in Texas and that means her family is still at risk.

Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court said CPS investigations could proceed. Randa Mulanax resigned from CPS because of all of this. She says it's a slippery slope. Lots of medical treatments for kids have complicated side effects, but they're still necessary.

RANDA MULANAX: Because chemotherapy can cause irreparable damage to children and their reproductive organs, depending on what kind of cancer they have.

WEBER: She says families and doctors usually make those decisions. Mulanax calls the state intervention political.

MULANAX: It's a dangerous territory, I think, for the government to be trampling on.

WEBER: Gender-affirming health care is approved by major medical associations, and doctors and families say it's lifesaving, which is why the GENECIS Clinic in Dallas is currently in litigation. The clinic's lead doctor, Ximena Lopez, says she was forced to shut down because the governor pressured her bosses. A court order temporarily allowed GENECIS to reopen earlier this month. Yesterday, a judge extended it. Attorney Charla Aldous represents Lopez and says scores of new patients have sought care in the last few weeks.

CHARLA ALDOUS: Many of them are suicidal because they've been waiting to get in, and it's been delayed treatment.

WEBER: Aldous says patients feel the weight of the investigations, too.

ALDOUS: And they're afraid because of the CPS investigation. It has really, really traumatized families that have already been marginalized.

WEBER: While the decision on GENECIS is good news for trans families, gender-affirming care in Texas is still precarious. Parents throughout the state remain unsure if they'll be able to get the care their kids need.

Back in Austin, Kari expects families will continue to go the distance.

KARI: I can guarantee you that a parent of a transgender kid is not going to just sit here and go, well, sorry, honey, you don't get your hormones anymore. So sorry, the governor said no. We're not those kind of parents. We're fighters.

WEBER: Kari says one thing you shouldn't do in Texas is poke a mama bear.

For NPR News in Austin, I'm Andrew Weber.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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