(CN) — Transgender Texans and their families are leaving the Lone Star State, but no one knows how many. Early last year, Republican Governor Greg Abbott ordered the state child-welfare agency to investigate families who were providing gender-affirming care to their children, sparking fear among Texas families and prompting resignations at the agency.
Leading medical groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend this care for children — but as the 2023 Texas legislative session nears an end, lawmakers look set to follow Abbott’s directive with a legal ban for minors. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which investigates claims of child abuse, says it’s opened 15 CPS investigations into families over this care.
At DFPS meetings, transgender Texans and their allies now regularly show up to beg officials to end the investigations. The proposed ban on gender-affirming care is just one of several bills this year targeting LGBTQ+ free expression, including new rules on drag queens and "obscene" books. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican who describes his politics as "Christian first," has listed several of these measures as priorities for him.
Talk to transgender families at the Texas Capitol, and almost everyone is already moving or has a back-up plan to leave. Below are the voices of these Texas families on coming out, living as trans and what it's like to say goodbye to their state. These interviews, edited for style and clarity, offer a portrait of everyday Texans caught up in a culture war.
'I just said it'
In the Dallas area, parents Mitch and Tiffany Tillison say gender-affirming care has saved their 12-year-old daughter’s life. If Texas bans it, they will have to leave.
In practice, that would mean the family splitting up. Tiffany would stay with their son in Dallas, where they agree he'd do better, while Mitch would take their daughter Rebecca* to New Mexico. (Courthouse News is redacting Rebecca’s name at the request of her parents and because she is a minor.)
Rebecca was assigned male at birth. She first experienced the joy of being a girl while playing at a friend’s house one day. "She was painting my nails," Rebecca said. "That’s when I realized."
"I’ve always admired long hair — 100%. Specifically, my mom’s long hair.
"There was one other moment, at the friend’s house again. She has a doll head. It’s a gigantic one, like a mannequin head. It had a wig.
"It had a lot of knots in it. One day I just got all the knots out. I was brushing it and spraying it. I was like ‘This is a nice feeling’ when I finished. It was the soft hair and everything else that made it beautiful.
"I was thinking about telling my parents, but I didn’t know how. I was extremely tired one night, so I just said it. It was on the way home from a soccer tournament.
"I hadn’t even realized I had said it until it went in my mind, like: ‘Oh, I just said that.’ It felt like a lot of weight on my shoulders was taken off."
'I didn't know shit about transgender stuff'
Mitch Tillison has already started looking for jobs in New Mexico, just in case a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for minors passes. He told bosses and coworkers that "if they get calls for references out of state, my intent is not to accept anything. It just means that I’m ensuring I have a place to escape to."
Mitch was adamant that he wanted to use his full name. "A fight worth having requires people to be vulnerable, open and available," he said. As both a public-school teacher and a parent of a trans kid, he says he sees these issues from multiple vantage points. "I didn’t know shit about transgender stuff. The students taught me a lot."