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Austin judge orders Texas to stop investigating trans kids’ parents

A Texas state district court granted the injunction requested by a social worker who says she was investigated for “child abuse” for providing medically recommended care to her trans daughter.

AUSTIN (CN) — A Texas state court halted a new Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) policy of investigating the parents of transgender children for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care, such as hormone therapy, to their kids.

The Friday evening order is the latest event in a weeklong civil lawsuit filed by the parents of a trans child and a Houston-area psychologist, who challenged Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Feb. 25 directive to the agency ordering it to consider encouraging medically recommended treatment of gender dysphoria as “child abuse.”

“Gender-affirming care was not investigated as child abuse by DFPS until after Feb. 22, 2022. The series of directives and decisions by the governor, the executive director and other decision-makers at DFPS changed the status quo for transgender children and their families, as well as professionals who offer treatment, throughout the state of Texas,” announced District Judge AMy Meachum at the conclusion of a hearing on the requested statewide injunction. “The governor’s directive was given the effect of a new law or a new agency rule despite no new legislation, regulation or even stated agency policy. [Texas Governor Greg] Abbott and [DFPS] Commissioner [Jaime] Masters’ actions violate separation of powers by impermissibly approaching into the legislative domain.”

In her decision, Meachum highlighted the consequences that the controversial policy has had on the family who brought the suit.

“It clearly appears to the court that unless defendants are immediately enjoined from enforcing the governor’s directive … plaintiffs will suffer imminent and irreparable injury. For example, Jane Doe has already been placed on administrative leave at work, and is at risk of losing her job, her livelihood and her means of caring for her family,” Meachum said.

A trial is scheduled for July 11, 2022.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and an LGBTQ advocacy network, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, represented the family and doctor.

Lambda Legal attorney Paul Castillo provided opening remarks on the plaintiffs’ behalf.

“Today’s hearing is about the need to enjoin the governor, commissioner and agency’s unauthorized attempt to expand the definition of ‘child abuse’ to target transgender youth and the parents who support them in seeking medically necessary, recognized care for their gender dysphoria,” Castillo said to Judge Meachum. “This vast overreach by the defendants establishes a new presumption of abuse by parents with trans young people seeking gender-affirming care, triggering investigations of families based solely on the provision of that care and prioritizing those investigations in an unprecedented way.”

State attorney Courtney Corbello defended the government in her opening statement.

“First, an automatic stay is still in place at the time of this time of litigation,” Corbello claimed, arguing that because the Austin-based Texas Third Court of Appeals has not issued a mandate, Judge Meachum could not make a ruling.

Corbello had argued that sovereign immunity protects the state from the lawsuit, saying the policy falls under the agency’s scope. Allegations of physical and mental and emotional abuse ought to be investigated, she said.

“It can’t be that all it takes for the judicial branch to infringe on the executive branch’s ability to perform such a critical task — of ensuring the welfare of the state’s children — is simply to claim that you’re being investigated by the [Department of Family and Protective Services] … and you don’t want to be.”

She also claimed the family had no standing to bring their claims.

“Plaintiffs are merely fearful at this point of any potential harm that may come to them because … of the investigation,” and have not yet suffered harm. She claimed that the mother, an employee of the very agency she is suing and filed the lawsuit under the pseudonym Jane Doe, has only been subjected to one meeting with an investigator, and has not had her child taken away from her or seen her daughter’s medications seized by the state.

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In Doe’s lawsuit, she additionally alleged that she was placed on administrative leave from her job after asking her supervisor how the new policy would affect their work. Doe says it was because her trans daughter is medically treating her gender dysphoria.

The plaintiffs brought another agency employee, former investigator Randa Mulanax, as a witness during the hearing. She testified that she was upset by unethical practices in the agency; her supervisor allegedly told her not to put anything about the new policy or trans children in writing, to avoid leaving a paper trail documenting the investigations.

Mulanax says she resigned after being told that she could not screen out any allegations of child abuse by trans children’s parents.

“It feels unethical, it feels like we are stepping into a dangerous territory,” Mulanax said. She wondered aloud at what “other medical decisions or private decisions the government would try to interfere with.”

She also said there was no apparent end goal for the investigations. According to Mulanax, Child Protective Services refers children to pediatricians, psychologists and other experts for their opinions on how children should be treated.

“If they’ve already recommended these treatments, it is not our position to step in and say that they are incorrect,” Mulanax said.

Megan Mooney, the psychologist who joined the family as a plaintiff in the suit, also took the stand Friday afternoon. Mooney provides individual and family therapy in the Houston area, including to trans patients and to families whose children experience gender dysphoria. She has a decade of experience working with trans youth.

Mooney testified that the change in policy has caused an “outright panic.”

“Parents are terrified that CPS is going to come and question their children or take them away. Mental health professionals are scared that we are either violating our standards and professional codes of conduct or in violation of law.”

She reports that LGBTQ youth’s mental health have worsened, naming increased suicidality, depression and anxiety as consequences of the directive.

Armand Antommaria, director of the ethics center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, also testified Friday. He agreed that gender-affirming treatments are safe and effective, decrease depression and improve general functioning in children.

Contrary to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Feb. 18 judicial opinion arguing that “sex change” treatments can be child abuse, Antommaria said that hormone replacement therapy is not a “sterilizing” procedure.

On cross-examination, the doctor acknowledged risks of hormone therapy — some patients experience blood clotting, for example — and said the benefits frequently outweigh the risks, emphasizing the case-by-case nature of medical recommendations.

The child’s mother and Cassandra Brady, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, also testified at Friday’s hearing.

Across the street Friday morning, Texas DFPS held a council meeting — its first since Abbott directed the agency to consider the encouragement of gender confirmation procedures as “child abuse” on Feb. 25 — and allowed members of the public to read testimony to the council.

More than 100 visitors signed up to speak at the meeting, which was not livestreamed. Per reports from the Houston Chronicle, speakers included child care workers and parents of trans children, who argued the agency had it wrong: gender-affirming care improved their kids’ lives. One parent said their trans son suffered suicidal ideation before receiving hormone therapy treatment and has since seen his mental health improve.

On Wednesday, Paxton amended a lawsuit against President Joe Biden and other executive officials to include objections to the Department of Health and Human Services’ actions intended to provide relief to trans children in Texas in light of the state’s “discriminatory gubernatorial order,” as Xavier Becerra, the department’s secretary, wrote.

“Texas’s child abuse laws forbid sterilization, genital mutilation, or unnecessary medical interventions for minors regardless of the gender identity of any persons. The March 2 Guidance [from HHS] does not challenge these generally applicable rules of Texas law, but interprets Section 1557 [of the Affordable Care Act] as requiring exemptions form those laws for persons who identify as transgender,” the amended complaint reads. As a result, Paxton’s office argues, the HHS actions are arbitrary and capricious, and should be vacated.

Friday’s edition of the Dallas Morning News featured a full-page advertisement cosigned by 64 companies, including Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Patagonia, PayPal and Unilever calling on Abbott to rescind the directive.

“The recent attempt to criminalize a parent for helping their transgender child access medically necessary, age-appropriate healthcare in the state of Texas goes against the values of our companies,” the ad reads.

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