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Texas investigates parents of transgender teen, prompting the ACLU to sue

If DFPS determines the family has committed child abuse, the parents would be placed on a child abuse registry and the mother could be fired.

TEXAS, USA — The State of Texas is investigating a family for child abuse after the parents obtained gender-affirming care for their 16-year-old transgender daughter. It’s believed to be among the first of these probes since the governor directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to target such care a week ago.

The child’s mother — a DFPS employee who reviews cases of abuse and neglect — has been placed on leave after asking for clarification from her supervisor about the recent executive branch orders.

The investigation came to light on Tuesday — the day of the Texas primary elections — in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed in Austin on the family’s behalf to block investigations of families seeking such medical care for their children.

According to the lawsuit, on the afternoon of Feb. 24, the child’s mother was informed that her family would be investigated. The next day, a DFPS Child Protective Services investigator visited her home and interview her, her husband and their transgender daughter.

The family is not named in the lawsuit; they were referred to as Jane and John Doe, and their daughter was referred to as Mary Doe. 

The CPS investigator said that the sole allegation against the family was that their transgender daughter “may have been provided with medically necessary gender-affirming health care and is ‘currently transitioning from male to female’.”

The family has so far refused to hand over the girl’s medical records to the agency. 

RELATED: DFPS says it will comply with Abbott, Paxton push to investigate transition procedures as child abuse

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit names both Gov. Greg Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services as defendants.

“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “A week before an election, Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a partisan political attack that isn’t rooted in the needs of families, the evidence from doctors and the expertise from child welfare professionals.”

If the agency determines the family has committed child abuse, the parents would be placed on a child abuse registry and the mother could be fired, according to the suit.

In the suit, the mother said that she and her husband have “been unable to sleep, worrying about what they can do and how they can keep their family intact and their daughter safe and healthy.”

The lawsuit is the first legal challenge in response to Abbott’s directive last week to child welfare officials to investigate parents of transgender children for child abuse. The order came within days after an opinion issued by Paxton, which classified certain types of gender-affirming care as child abuse.

RELATED: Republicans call on Abbott to set special session over child sex change opinion

Paxton’s opinion includes body modification surgeries that are rarely, if ever, performed on children. He also mentions puberty blockers that are reversible and are widely accepted by health experts. Studies show the model of gender-affirming care has had a significant improvement on the mental well-being of transgender children.

Last week, the agency confirmed that three reports of transgender children receiving gender-affirming care were made through the child abuse reporting system. On Tuesday, the agency declined further comment other than to say it was aware of the ACLU suit. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.

Houston-based clinical psychologist Megan Mooney is also named as a plaintiff. Mooney is now required by state law to report her clients receiving gender-affirming care, but she stated in the suit that complying with the governor's directive raised ethical concerns.

The medical community and even the White House have criticized the state’s actions.

Last week, a group of district attorneys, including Dallas County's, across the state also state they are standing in opposition to the Gov. Abbott and Paxton, saying they will not take action on "cruel directives" surrounding transgender children. 

In a joint statement, the district attorneys said they were "deeply disturbed" by the stances of Abbott and Paxton, which they described as a "continued onslaught on personal freedoms."  

RELATED: Dallas district attorney joins other Texas D.A.s rebuking Abbott, Paxton claims that transgender care is 'abuse'

WFAA also spoke with a family who recalled the time Paxton visited their home to discuss transgender rights in 2016. 

After hearing the news of Paxton's stance, the family told WFAA, "For him to call us the child abusers is such a betrayal." 

In recent months, the State of Texas and other mostly Republican-led states have moved to pass legislation that targets transgender Americans, from restricting their ability to use bathrooms aligned with their gender to limiting their participation in sports. 

At the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, a group of more than 100 people protested Abbott and Paxton’s directives that target families of transgender youth.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

The Texas Tribune and Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff contributed to this story.

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