The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has opened an investigation into one of its own employees who has a transgender teenager after she was reported for alleged child abuse, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The suit follows a nonbinding legal opinion issued last week by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stating that providing gender-affirming medical care — including puberty blockers and hormone therapy — to any person under age 18 is considered child abuse under state law. A day after Paxton’s opinion was made public, Gov. Greg Abbott released a directive calling on “licensed professionals” and “members of the general public” to report the parents of transgender minors to state authorities if it appears the minors are receiving gender-affirming medical care.
Shortly after Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s directive, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “initiated investigations into families with transgender children, which continue,” Tuesday’s complaint alleged. Patrick Crimmins, director of communications for the department, said it has received three reports but did not confirm that all three are open investigations.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and Houston-based law firm Baker Botts LLP are representing one anonymous family under investigation. The lawsuit referred to them as the Doe family, which includes Jane Doe, the Department of Family and Protective Services employee; her husband, John Doe; and their 16-year-old transgender daughter, Mary Doe.
The complaint said Abbott’s directive “has wreaked havoc on the Doe family.”
On Wednesday, the day after Abbott released his letter, Jane Doe asked her supervisor at the department for clarification regarding how the governor’s letter would affect department policy. Hours later, Jane Doe “was placed on leave from her employment because she has a transgender daughter with a medical need for treatment of gender dysphoria,” the lawsuit stated.
The next day, Jane Doe was informed that her family would be investigated in accordance with Abbott’s letter to determine if she and her husband had committed abuse by affirming the identity of their trans daughter and providing her with medical care.
On Friday, an investigator with the department’s child protective services division visited the Doe family’s home, interviewed them and sought access to Mary Doe’s medical records, which the Doe family refused.
“The CPS investigator disclosed that the sole allegation against Jane Doe and John Doe is that they have a transgender daughter and that their daughter may have been provided with medically necessary gender-affirming health care and is ‘currently transitioning from male to female,’” the complaint stated.
Listed on the complaint as an additional plaintiff is Megan Mooney, a licensed psychologist who is considered a mandatory reporter under Texas law. If she follows the governor’s directive and reports the parents of trans minors receiving gender-affirming medical care, she “would be violating her professional standards of ethics and inflict serious harm and trauma on her clients,” the lawsuit stated.
The suit named Abbott, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the department’s commissioner, Jaime Masters, as defendants. It argued that by circumventing the legislative process in an attempt to change the law, they have violated the Texas Administrative Procedure Act. The suit also argued that the defendants have violated the equality and due process protections guaranteed by the Texas Constitution.
Crimmins, the department spokesperson, said the agency is aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment further. The governor’s office has not returned a request for comment.
Paxton and Abbott released their letters just a week prior to the Republican primary election in the state, leading advocates to argue that they were entirely politically motivated, especially given that Paxton is facing a crowded field of challengers. He is also awaiting trial for a 2015 indictment on charges of securities fraud, and he is under investigation by the FBI over allegations of bribery and abuse of office. His office has not returned a request for comment. In previous statements to news outlets, he has denied any wrongdoing and has said the accusations are politically motivated.
Adri Pèrez, policy and advocacy strategist for LGBTQ equality at the ACLU of Texas, told NBC News last week that there is “no court in Texas or the entire country that has ever found that gender-affirming care can constitute child abuse.”
District attorneys in five of the state’s largest counties also said Thursday that they would not follow Abbott’s directive, writing in a joint statement that they “will enforce the Constitution and will not irrationally and unjustifiably interfere with medical decisions made between children, their parents, and their medical physicians.”
Even though courts might not uphold Abbott’s directive, advocacy groups say they’ve received a deluge of messages from the parents of trans kids who are worried about being reported for child abuse.
A spokesperson for Equality Texas, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, said the group has heard from “hundreds of families who are concerned.” Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said the directive has created “chaos.”
“We have a crisis on the ground because parents are terrified, for good reason,” he said. “We’re talking about family separation by our state government.”
He noted that families are getting medical guidance from doctors and that doctors are getting it from relevant accredited medical organizations that support gender-affirming care for minors as medically necessary, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.
Parents like Karen Krajcer, who lives in Austin, are scared, but they’re also exhausted because “these attacks against the transgender community are relentless,” she said.
Krajcer started going to the Texas Capitol last year — when the Legislature considered more than 50 anti-trans bills — to advocate on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter, who is trans.
She said she’s frustrated when people dismiss Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s letter as “just political stunts.” She said they are, but her family is feeling their impact.
Last week, after she spent days compiling a folder of letters and photos that show she’s a good parent to her daughter in case she’s reported for abuse, she sat at the kitchen table with her husband and cried.
“We thought our kids couldn’t hear us, and my daughter came in and brought me this card that she made,” Krajcer said. The front of the card said, “Mom, we love you so much. We can fight this together.”
“It’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet,’ but my child is thanking me for standing up for her, for letting her be herself,” she said. “That’s my job. That just shows how frightened she must feel.”
Krajcer said her daughter isn’t receiving gender-affirming medical care, so she feels like she has to stay in Texas and fight for the trans kids who are receiving it but whose families can’t move to a different state.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to stay here and fight, but I don’t want to subject my children to a world where they have to be grateful for their parents doing what teams of doctors advise them to do and for loving them,” she said.
Asaf Orr, senior staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and director of the group’s Transgender Youth Project, said the center knows of several families who are the subject of investigations in Texas due to the governor’s directive, and he anticipates that the number will only increase. Even if the investigations don’t find anything, he said, families will endure significant anxiety and trauma.
“The reality is that the harm is done simply by opening the investigation,” he said. “Until that policy is stopped permanently, it will continue to have significant effects on families raising trans kids.”