Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called on state officials to conduct "thorough investigations" into transgender children getting gender-affirming care, a move that critics say is a fearmongering tactic meant to dissuade people from getting the services they need.
Abbott's letter came after the state's attorney general, Ken Paxton, issued an opinion deeming that "elective" gender-affirming treatments like mastectomies, puberty-blocking drugs, and sex reassignment surgery could "constitute child abuse" under Texas law.
Abbott's letter directs the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents of children undergoing any of the procedures and for other state agencies to investigate the facilities where they're carried out. This isn't the first time politicians in Texas have moved to erode access to medical care for trans people under 18. Last year, the state Senate passed a bill that would make nearly all affirming care and medical procedures for children a felony.
It was not immediately clear how many agencies across the state would enforce Abbott's directive since Paxton's opinion is not legally binding and several Democratic prosecutors were already accusing the governor of ignoring medical science.
In a statement, the DFPS said there are currently no pending investigations of "child abuse" involving the procedures described in Paxton's opinion, adding that if any allegations are reported to the agency, "they will be investigated under existing policies of Child Protective Investigations."
Emmett Schelling, the executive director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told BuzzFeed News that Paxton's opinion was "just wrong" and based on incorrect information.
"Our AG decided that facts and science were not going to be the basis of that opinion," Schelling said. "The result is this continuing conversation in our state about the validity of trans people, whether they be adults or children."
Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said Paxton is just trying to make people afraid of what basic gender-affirming care is. For a young child, it's about attending mental health counseling, using a different pronoun or name, dressing differently, and "that's basically it," Oakley added.
The first medical intervention comes when young people are approaching puberty, she said, and then they are prescribed puberty blockers, which are reversible.
It's not until adulthood that transgender people start undergoing surgeries, Oakley added.
According to the American Medical Association, criminalizing healthcare for transgender minors is a "dangerous" intrusion into the practice of medicine. The Endocrine Society and the Pediatric Endocrine Society oppose any legislation that bans medical and surgical treatments for transgender children and calls prescribing hormones a "recommended strategy" if criteria are met.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also says that "gender diverse youth who are supported to live and/or explore the gender role that is consistent with their gender identity have better mental health outcomes than those who are not."
Oakley suggested that Texas parents and trans youth "try not to panic" over Abbott's letter and Paxton's opinion.
"I am confident that this is not going to be enforceable in a court of law," she said.
Shelby Chestnut, director of policy and programs at the Transgender Law Center, said Abbott's directive isn't legally binding and that the situation is still unfolding. They said in a statement that the "political move" is a fearmongering tactic that will have consequences for trans youth and their families.
“Parents and guardians who are rightfully afraid and unsure of what to do should know that loving their children and allowing them to live authentically is not child endangerment — it is a love, understanding, and trust that youth know what they need," they said.