DALLAS — A group of district attorneys across the state of Texas are standing in opposition to the governor and attorney general, saying they will not take action on "cruel directives" surrounding transgender children.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Ken Paxton released an official opinion calling puberty blockers and medical procedures to change a child's sex as "abuse" under section 261.001 of the Texas Family Code, which outlines the definitions of abuse -- from mental or physical abuse to neglect.
A day after Paxton released his opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services directing the agency to conduct "prompt and thorough" investigations of any reported instances of Texas children being "subjected to abusive gender-transitioning procedures."
The DFPS, in turn, on Wednesday said it will be following Texas law as explained by the attorney general. However, the DFPS noted there were not currently any pending investigations of child abuse involving procedures as mentioned in Paxton's opinion. It's also unclear which specific sections of Texas code gender-affirming care violates.
In a joint statement released Thursday, five district attorneys from major Texas metros said they were "deeply disturbed" by the stances of Abbott and Paxton, which they described as a "continued onslaught on personal freedoms."
"Elected officials should be protecting our most vulnerable," the statement read. "These two, instead, want to irrationally target and restrain children seeking medical assistance -- and force caregivers to participate. This is un-American. We cannot stand silent in the face of such an egregious invasion of privacy."
The statement -- signed by Dallas County D.A. John Creuzot; Travis County D.A. José Garza in Austin; Bexar County D.A. Joe Gonzales in San Antonio; Nueces County D.A. Mark Gonzalez in Corpus Christi; and Fort Bend County D.A. Brian Middleton in Houston -- laid out plans to only enforce the Constitution and not "irrationally and unjustifiably" interfere with medical decisions made between children, their parents and their doctors.
The stances of Abbott and Paxton comes as Texas -- and other mostly Republican-led states in the U.S. -- have moved recently to pass legislation that targets transgender Americans, from restricting their ability to use bathrooms that align with their gender to limiting trans students' participation in sports.
Issues surrounding the rights of transgender people have also become a flashpoint for politicians, who have used rhetoric on social issues like abortion, critical race theory and same-sex marriage to galvanize support from their base during election cycles.
Both Abbott and Paxton are locked in contentious re-election bids for the March 1 primary ahead of the November general election. The same is true of Dallas D.A. Creuzot.
There has been some progress in protecting the rights of transgender people. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled workers couldn’t be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there are still gaps. For instance, federal law doesn’t protect those who work at businesses with fewer than 15 workers. It doesn’t address bathrooms for transgender people. And it’s still an open question whether employers can fire an LGBTQ person for religious reasons.
Despite some gains, the Human Rights Council said 2021 was on track to be the deadliest years for transgender and gender non-conforming people, noting the more than 50 killings of this marginalized population in 2021.
Advocates for transgender rights have pushed back on Abbott and Paxton, saying young people and their families "feel attacked" by their stances. One such critic is Lane Strickland, the director of development with Out Youth, an Austin-based advocacy group that offers resources for LGBTQIA+ youth.
Strickland said transgender children already don't feel supported by their government, and added that changes like this will only make things worse.
"Just knowing what it could do for our clients and for our youth and their families, it's truly devastating," Strickland said.
Advocates and doctors have also said gender reassignment surgeries are almost never performed on children.
But Jonathan Covey with Texas Values said the stance from the governor and attorney general will hopefully stop parents from supporting these procedures for kids.
"They're barbaric, and we believe that harmful, irreversible procedures cause brain damage to children and adolescents, and they need to they need to stop immediately," Covey said.
In their joint statement, the Texas district attorneys said they wanted to "assure our residents with transgender children that they are safe to continue seeking the care their children need."
"We will not allow the Governor and Attorney General to disregard Texan children’s lives in order to score political points," the statement said. "We have a choice: we can launch politically motivated attacks, or we can lift up and protect communities. We are proud to do the latter."
Material from the Associated Press appears in this report. Jeff Bell and Drew Knight from WFAA's sister-station KVUE also contributed to this report.