Texas Judge Temporarily Halts Further Transgender Child Abuse Investigations

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Updated at 5:33 p.m. with more details on the temporary restraining order.

AUSTIN — A Texas judge on Friday temporarily halted state investigations into child abuse in two families with transgender children, agreeing they faced immediate harm.

Travis County District Court Judge Jan Soifer granted the families the requests for a two-week temporary restraining order after a virtual hearing that lasted less than an hour. In a broader step, she also extended the order to all members of the nonprofit advocacy group for LGBTQ people and their allies known as PFLAG.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Soifer’s order reads, is barred from investigating or taking action against plaintiffs’ families and PFLAG members “for possible child abuse.” based solely on allegations that they have a transgender, gender non-conforming, gender transitioning minor child, or are receiving or being prescribed gender-affirming medical treatment.

The judge added that unless she takes this action, the families could suffer serious invasions of privacy, fear, trauma, depression, self-harm or suicide. She has set a hearing for June 21, during which she can rule on the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction, which would be of longer duration.

Friday’s ruling marks another temporary, albeit significant, victory for transgender Texans since the state began investigating gender-affirming care for minors as abuse earlier this year. A fourth investigation into a family with a trans teenager, the subject of litigation in a separate case, was suspended by another judge last month and doctors at a Dallas hospital were recently granted the chance to restart some treatments for new trans youth seeking gender affirmation. medical care after major changes to their program in November.

“This is now the sixth time in recent months that a Texas court has ruled in favor of transgender youth and their loving and supportive families,” said Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, in a press release. “The court and Texans agree: militarizing the child welfare system against loving families causes irreparable harm.”

It is unclear whether the state will fight the order. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Earlier in the hearing, the state’s attorney confirmed he had also closed a third investigation into a family with transgender children, the Briggles of Denton, finding there was no child abuse. ‘children. The Briggles case is now the first investigation into the parents of a minor receiving gender-affirming care to be publicly confirmed as closed since February, when the state targeted some of the treatment as child abuse. .

The state has opened at least nine investigations into families with transgender children since late February. It was then that Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding opinion that certain treatments for gender dysphoria in minors, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy, were child abuse. Citing this opinion, Governor Greg Abbott ordered child protective services to investigate reports of minors receiving such treatment.

The parents of a transgender teenager, one of whom works for CPS, were the first to sue Abbott over the directive in March. Last month, the Texas Supreme Court suspended the investigation into this family, known by the pseudonym Doe, and ruled that Abbott and Paxton had no power to force the CPS to undertake such an investigation. . The substance of this case continues to be debated.

However, the High Court did not extend the protection it afforded the Doe family to all other persons under state control. The decision put control back in the hands of the CPS, which quickly continued several of its investigations into abuse in families with trans children.

This week, three of those families filed a lawsuit that led to Friday’s temporary restraining order.

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During the hearing, Judge Soifer repeatedly expressed skepticism of the state’s argument that it had no evidence that child protective services were handling cases involving care claiming gender differently from other abuse allegations. Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello, advocating for the state, said the state has always been able to investigate an allegation that providing a child with particular medical treatment may be abusive.

“Giving hormones or puberty blockers may constitute child abuse,” Corbello said.

Soifer fired back, “Is that true when the treatment is considered standard protocol and supported by all major medical organizations in the United States? The judge added that complainants have said child abuse investigators are obligated to prosecute them, when they generally have more discretion to close cases.

CPS workers, both in the Doe case and in the media, have publicly stated that it has been their policy since Abbott’s directive in February.

Corbello dismissed that, saying there was no evidence to suggest the state has or intends to find child abuse solely on the basis of medically necessary care. She added that these families cannot claim that they have been harmed since the state has not removed any of their children, and reiterated that the Department of Family and Protective Services does not need to undertake any investigation. new regulatory rules to launch these investigations.

Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, who represents families with the ACLU of Texas, told Soifer that all three families — and anyone caring for a transgender child in Texas — have been negatively affected by the investigations.

“Each of these children and each of these parents have known fear, suffered evil,” he told the hearing.

In addition to the Briggles, the only family not to use pseudonyms in the lawsuit, the “Roe” and “Voe” families are also plaintiffs. All three have transgender sons. In their complaint, the Roes said their son was removed from class by a CPS investigator and questioned about his gender and medical treatments. The Voes said their son attempted suicide by ingesting a bottle of aspirin on the day Abbott’s directive was issued.

They sought medical attention and later help from a psychiatric hospital. On March 11, the Voe family said they were visited by child protective services and told the hospital had discharged them when they learned their son was allowed access to medical treatment claiming the gender.

Republican politicians in Texas have been paying increasing attention to medical treatments for transgender youth in recent months. Last year, state lawmakers debated bills aimed at cracking down on gender-affirming health care for minors, but passed nothing.

Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s directive were released months later, just weeks before the most competitive GOP primary election season in a decade. Both are seeking re-election and, at the time, faced major GOP challengers that pushed them to more aggressively target gender-affirming care.

Abbott and Paxton easily beat their main challengers. Both will face Democratic opponents in November.

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