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Texas judge blocks state from investigating parents of trans kids

Before Friday's ruling, the state was blocked from investigating one family. Now, hundreds are protected, at least temporarily.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A Texas judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state child welfare agency from investigating three families who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children for child abuse. The order also protects all members of a nationwide organization that provides support for families of LGBT youth.

Ruling from the bench, Travis Country District Court Judge Jan Soifer issued a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The order comes days after three families and the organization PFLAG filed an 80-page lawsuit against Republican Governor Greg Abbott, DFPS and the department's commissioner, Jamie Masters. The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction barring DFPS from conducting any further investigations.

The three families who filed the lawsuit have minor children who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and are receiving gender-affirming care. Adam and Amber Briggle are one set of parents who sued and are the first to be publicly named in a lawsuit against the state.

Along with the families, over 600 members of PFLAG also were granted protection from being investigated by the state. As an organization, PFLAG advocates on behalf of LGBTQ people and their families. It is a nationwide organization with 17 chapters in the state of Texas alone. 

Abbott, a Republican who is currently running for reelection, has argued that gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and surgeries constitutes child abuse. This claim was supported by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is also running for reelection this fall. 

In a legal opinion, Paxton said hormone blockers and sexual reassignment surgeries are considered child abuse when prescribed to a minor. A letter from Abbott to DFPS directed the agency to adhere to Paxton’s legal opinion and investigate any person who provides or authorizes such care, including families and their doctors. 

In an affidavit, Adam Briggle recounted that 48 hours after the governor directed DFPS to begin investigating parents of transgender kids, he and his wife were contacted by the agency. 

“ A CPS investigator contacted us again the following Monday, stating she was 30 minutes away from our home and that she wanted to talk to us,” the affidavit states. “The CPS investigator showed up at Amber’s office. We asked her why she was there. She said DFPS had received a report that we were engaging in 'transgender transformation' of M.B. When we asked what that meant, she said Child Protective Services was investigating us 'because of the governor’s directive.'"

Briggle said in the three months since the investigation into his family began, his once joyful 14-year-old son has now become anxious and fearful. Moreover, the investigation has impacted his son's emotional and academic well-being. 

Karen Loewy is senior counsel at Lambda Legal and worked directly on the case before Judge Soifer. She said in an interview that DFPS continuing to investigate the families of transgender youth shows an animus the state has against such families.

“This is absolute persecution of the families of transgender kids who are doing nothing more than providing exactly the medically necessary care that has been recognized as the standard of care by practitioners,” said Loewy. 

In addition to being contacted by DFPS, Loewy said that families have been asked to turn over medical records and allow investigators to meticulously search through their homes. The attorney mentioned instances of families being reported to the agency despite not having a transgender child. 

“The fact is that these are unlawful investigations, the agency is conducting them without proper authority, they adopted this rule in a way that was both procedurally and substantively unlawful,” said Loewy. 

Soifer’s order comes nearly a month after the state supreme court ruled to allow investigations of families with transgender children to go forward. In their ruling, the justice found that a lower court ruling enjoining the state from conducting any further investigations was wrongly decided but upheld an injunction protecting a single family that was the first to take the state to court over the investigations.

However, the high court stressed in its decision that DFPS is not beholden to Abbott’s directive. The court reasoned that the agency has the sole authority to decide who it investigates in child welfare cases. Shortly after the ruling, investigations continued, leading to the lawsuit filed earlier this week. 

State lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would classify gender-affirming care as child abuse during the spring legislative session last year. While those attempts failed, they are expected to be revived next year when the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature meets again in January.

During a fall special session last year, Abbott called on lawmakers to ban transgender athletes from participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identity. That call was delivered on and is now law in the state.

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