By Leo Quevedo

For members of the transgender community, the last few years in American politics have been marked by both significant victories for personal rights and painful reminders of the continued fight to live as one’s true self. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 was a record year for anti-trans legislation at the state level, with over 80 such bills having been already introduced across the nation by March. Trans youth have been the primary target of most of these proposals, a fact highlighted in the past weeks by the controversy brewing in the Lone Star State.

On February 21, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a formal opinion that characterized the administration of gender-affirming treatments to children as child abuse. The opinion specifically mentions puberty blockers and sex-change operations as examples of abuse according to the Texas Family Code, with Attorney General Paxton stating the practices “must be halted.” The opinion also concluded that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had a “responsibility to act accordingly.”

The opinion was delivered as a result of an August 2021 letter sent to the DFPS by Governor Greg Abbott requesting that the department determine if sex change operations on children constituted child abuse. The following day, Governor Abbott directed the DFPS to conduct investigations into reports of children receiving gender-affirming treatment. In his letter to the department, Governor Abbott additionally stated that “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse” were responsible to report cases to the DFPS. This means individuals such as teachers and day-care employees would have a legal responsibility to report children who they suspect to be receiving gender-affirming treatment. The letter also mentions that failing to report such cases would constitute a “criminal offense” under the Texas Family Code.

It did not take long for the impact of the directive to be felt among families of trans children, as the DFPS soon began receiving reports and had opened investigations into several families. In addition, some clinics that had been providing gender-affirming care have paused their treatments, with one Houston-area hospital citing the need to “safeguard [their] healthcare professionals and impacted families” from facing “criminal legal ramifications.” By March 2, the directive had already faced its first legal challenge when state district court Judge Amy Clark Meachum ordered a temporary halt to the investigation of the parents of a 16-year-old transgender child. According to reports, the mother of the child had been working at the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services but was placed on leave because of her transgender child; she was informed of the investigation into her child the following day. Judge Meachum will consider issuing a temporary order blocking the enforcement of the directive statewide, with a hearing currently set for March 11.

Amongst the political battle surrounding the Texas directive, it’s important to know the facts surrounding trans healthcare for minors. For starters, most prepubescent children experiencing gender dysphoria begin transitioning in a societal context. Professionals recommend creating an accepting atmosphere for such children and allowing them to present their gender identity at home and out in public, though any medical treatment is discouraged at this point in the child’s development. Professional organizations like the Endocrine Society recommend against considering puberty blockers until the individual reaches puberty, and should the individual choose to discontinue use of the blockers, their biological puberty will resume, meaning the treatment is not permanent, although questions remain about the long-term effects of taking such blockers. Professional organizations also recommend that individuals be at least 16 years old before beginning estrogen or testosterone treatments, while sex changes in the United States are only recommended for individuals aged 18 or old. Recent studies suggest that gender-affirming care has led to lower rates of depression and suicidal ideation among trans youth.

To understand the trans perspective on the actions recently taken by state governments across the country, I sat down with Melissa Tully, a junior and active member of Mizzou’s trans and non-binary student organization Oasis. Melissa is a trans woman who transitioned at the age of 18 with the support of her family. Coming from Illinois, where trans individuals experience greater legal protections than Texas, Melissa called the actions taken by the Texas government “egregious” and said that politicians like Greg Abbott were using the trans community as a “political cudgel” and for “cheap points.” When I asked her how she reacted to the news of the directive, Melissa told me she got emotional upon hearing the news. She fears more states will roll out similar policies and says that witnessing recent anti-trans legislation get passed by states is “increasingly frustrating” and “really hard to see” for her.

At the end of our interview, I asked Melissa what she would like to see governments do for the trans community instead of legislating against them. She told me she would like to see greater access to and research into gender-affirming care, along with greater legal protections for her community and the simplification of the process for changing gender identity markers on government IDs and documents.

Needless to say, the news of anti-trans directives and legislation coming from Texas and other states has been difficult to take in for those in the trans community. LGBTQ mental health support is available 24/7 through The Trevor Project’s website at thetrevorproject.org and through their crisis hotline at (866) 488-7386.

Edited by Ryan Cohen