(CN) — At the urging of Governor Greg Abbott, the state’s commissioner of child protective services declared sex-reassignment surgery is child abuse Wednesday.
“Genital mutilation of a child through reassignment surgery is child abuse, subject to all rules and procedures pertaining to child abuse,” Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Jaime Masters, whom Abbott appointed to the post in 2019, wrote in a letter to the Republican governor Wednesday.
Masters warned that teachers, nurses, doctors and day-care staff who are licensed by the state, or work in state-licensed or state-operated facilities can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, if they find out a child has undergone gender-affirming surgery and do not report it to her agency.
The declaration means Masters' agency is obligated to investigate the parents of any child who has the procedure done, according to Abbott.
The commissioner did however say the procedure may not constitute abuse if it is deemed medically necessary for a child who, for instance, is born with both male and female sex organs.
Abbott asked Masters to weigh in early this month after Republican state lawmakers failed to secure passage of a bill in the 2021 regular legislative session that aimed to prohibit transgender youth from receiving cross-sex hormone therapy, puberty suppression drugs and reassignment surgery by adding the treatments to the definition of child abuse under state law.
LGBTQ advocates say Abbott is pandering to his conservative base because sex-reassignment surgery is rarely performed on minors.
For one thing, it’s expensive, according to medical professionals. It costs $7,000 to $24,000 for male-to-female procedures and more than $50,000 for female-to-male procedures.
It’s also only performed after the person has received hormone therapy for at least a year, doctors say.
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of the LGBTQ-rights group Equality Texas, said medical professionals have worked up best practices advising a social transition that allows transgender children to express their identity without surgical intervention.
“So growing out or changing their hair style and wearing clothes they feel reflect their gender identity,” he said in an interview.
Abbott, along with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a fellow Republican, is also pushing for passage of a bill that would restrict public school students to competing in athletics against people of the same biological sex. The governor named it to his list of priority legislation in the regular session and two special sessions he has convened this summer.
Martinez said the legislative attacks are endangering transgender Texans, one group in particular.
“We already know the fearmongering and rhetoric around the lives of transgender people contributes to having Texas remain the leading state in the murders of black transgender women and that’s simply not acceptable,” he said.
Critics of Abbott’s preoccupation with transgender children point to the fallout of anti-transgender legislation in Arkansas.
Overriding the veto of Governor Asa Hutchinson, the Republican-majority Arkansas General Assembly passed the nation’s first ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender youth in April.
A doctor at Arkansas Children’s Hospital said the ban has caused some of her transgender patients to attempt suicide and others to mull seeking treatment on the black market.
“My families are in a state of panic, asking what state should they move to, saying their child is threatening to kill themselves. They want to know what they should do next, and we don’t have a clear answer for them,” Dr. Michele Hutchison told the Associated Press in April.
A federal judge issued an order last month temporarily blocking Arkansas from enforcing the law after the American Civil Liberties Union sued in a bid to get it struck down.
The Texas Legislature’s anti-transgender bills have also led some parents of transgender kids to consider moving out of the state.
Parents looking to avoid any such legislation have limited choices on where to reside. An ACLU survey of anti-transgender bills filed this year found more than 100 have been proposed in 32 states.Follow @cam_langford
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.