By Emma Platoff and Stacy Fernández
Top Texas Republicans have directed the state’s child welfare agency to investigate whether a mother who supports her 7-year-old child’s gender transition is committing “child abuse” — a move that has alarmed an already fearful community of parents of transgender children.
Gov. Greg Abbott declared via tweet Wednesday that two state agencies, the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Texas Attorney General’s Office, are looking into a dispute between divorced North Texas parents who disagree on whether their child should continue the process of transitioning from male to female, a path that could culminate, when the child is years older, in medical interventions.
In a letter Thursday to the state’s child welfare agency, First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer declared that the child — who identifies as a girl, according to testimony from a counselor and pediatrician — is “in immediate and irrevocable danger.”
“We ask that you open an investigation into this matter as soon as possible and act pursuant to your emergency powers to protect the boy in question [from] permanent and potentially irreversible harm by his mother,” Mateer wrote, repeatedly referring to the 7-year-old as a boy. Mateer’s nomination to the federal bench was withdrawn in 2017 after revelations that he had called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan.”
A spokesman for DFPS said the agency’s “review of the allegations is already underway.”
The case’s path to public discourse began with the child’s father, Jeff Younger, whose blog has generated a maelstrom of right-wing outrage, including from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who called the child “a pawn in a left-wing political agenda.” Younger, who also appeared at a rally at the Capitol this spring, does not agree with his ex-wife that his child is transgender. In blog posts, he has claimed his child could face “chemical castration.”
In reality, experts say, the transition process for prepubescent children does not involve medical intervention; instead, it consists of social affirmations like allowing children to wear the clothes they like, employ the names and pronouns they prefer, and paint their nails if they choose. During puberty, a transgender child might, with the consultation of a doctor, begin to take puberty blockers, reversible drugs that can stop puberty and the gender markers that come with it, like a deepening voice, the development of breasts or starting a period. Later on, experts say, transgender young adults might explore the option of surgery.
In a court ruling Thursday that granted the parents joint custody, Dallas Judge Kim Cooks noted that there was never a court order for the child to undergo medical treatment, according to The Dallas Morning News. Indeed, the mother, Anne Georgulas, had requested that Cook require mutual consent before the child underwent any treatment, the Morning News reported.
LGBTQ advocates say that Republican officials are exploiting misinformation and targeting an already vulnerable community to score political points. One mother in the Dallas area who declined to be named, fearing for the safety of her transgender son, said she had called her local police department to request additional patrols in her area.
Georgulas has suffered “threats, harassment and even vandalism,” according to a statement from her attorneys. Georgulas, a pediatrician, fought unsuccessfully to have the court record sealed. Both Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have identified the child by name in public statements.
“We’ve already seen what happens when the state politicizes transgender children: Real harm can be done,” said Angela Hale, acting CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group. “Politicians have no business delving into people’s private lives and attempting to harm children.”
Several Texas Republicans are proposing legislation related to the family’s dispute.
State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, declared that “the 1st bill I file in the 87th [legislative session] will add ‘Transitioning of a Minor’ as Child Abuse.” State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, pledged to introduce a bill prohibiting the use of puberty blockers for children and lamented that “we missed our opportunity to do so in the 86th session.”
Robbie Sharp, a Houston developmental psychologist and gender therapist, said puberty blockers are critical for children who don’t identify with the puberty traits their bodies are taking on. Going through puberty without blockers can put children at risk for suicide or cause them to act out, Sharp said.
Blockers also buy children and their parents time before making any decisions that are irreversible, said Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist at Pacific University in Oregon.
For members of the LGBTQ community, state leaders’ move this week was reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2017 legislative fight over a “bathroom bill” that would have barred transgender individuals from using public facilities that aligned with their gender identities. That year, conservative lawmakers fought for months to pass a bill they insisted, without evidence, was necessary to protect women — and LGBTQ advocates argued would harm their communities.
Proponents termed the measure the “privacy act” — an ironic moniker, LGBTQ advocates said, given the intrusions into the transgender community’s privacy lawmakers have proposed.
But fights over LGBTQ rights and protections seemed less prominent during the 2019 legislative session, after a punishing 2018 election cycle seemed to push Texas Republicans toward pocketbook issues and away from culture wars. Numerous religious refusal bills, which advocates feared would “license discrimination” against their communities, failed to pass.
“The politicization of this case is hypocrisy,” Hale said. “Those who cried about privacy during the bathroom bill have turned around and violated this child’s privacy by revealing the child’s identity.”
This article originally appeared at the Texas Tribune.