A Texas mom is doing whatever it takes to keep her transgender child safe – even if that requires picking up their lives, leaving family and friends behind and moving hundreds of miles west.
In a legal opinion released publicly on February 18, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared that gender-affirming surgical procedures in children and prescribing drugs that affect puberty are to be considered “child abuse,” a claim many have viewed as an attack on transgender children.
Violet, who is a Dallas resident with her 6-year-old transgender daughter, Isa, said that news reaffirmed her decision to move her family to California to keep Isa safe and healthy.
CNN is withholding both Violet and Isa’s last name to protect their privacy.
“There’s pretty much nothing that could keep us here,” Violet said. “The general feeling (in Texas) is just constant fear. I’m always worried that she’s going to accidentally say something about her penis in public, because that has happened, and I see the way people react to us which is why Texas hasn’t really ever felt safe…it’s just time for us to get out and I want to be somewhere there are actually laws in the books that protect her instead of trying to erase her.”
Paxton’s opinion says anyone – including parents, doctors or teachers – who has “reasonable cause” to believe such “abuse” is taking place must report it to authorities within 48 hours. Failure to report it “is a criminal offense,” the opinion states, citing Texas “family code.”
“There is no doubt that these procedures are ‘abuse’ under Texas law, and thus must be halted,” Paxton said in a statement. “The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has a responsibility to act accordingly. I’ll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans.”
In response to the opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott directed DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters “to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics explained that hormone therapy and surgery are not the only methods of gender-affirming care available to children. These treatments are used to treat gender dysphoria, or the medical condition in which a person’s gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
Right now, it’s unclear just how much legal standing the order and opinion will have.
Five Texas District Attorneys issued a joint statement in February calling the directives from the governor and attorney general cruel, life-threatening and un-American.
They said they will enforce the Constitution and will not “irrationally interfere” in medical decisions made by families, their children, and their doctors.
Brian Klosterboer, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, told CNN that Paxton’s opinion and the directive by Abbott have no legal effect on Texas law.
“They don’t have the power to strip away or trample on the rights of transgender young people,” Klosterboer said.
Regardless, parents of transgender children across the Lone Star State say they’re fearful and anxiety ridden. Some, like Violet, are prepared to take life changing measures, like leaving the state, while others are ready to stay and fight tooth and nail.
CNN has reached out to the offices of the governor and the attorney general for comment.
‘We are desperate to keep our trans kids alive and healthy and happy’
Hearing the news about Paxton’s opinion felt personal to Amber and Adam Briggle, parents of a transgender 14-year-old son, because they had the Texas Attorney General and his wife over for dinner in 2016 to meet their trans-inclusive family.
“He was kind to our faces and was a considerate dinner guest and then to turn around and do this, break bread with our family at our table, and tell us that he thought our son was a good kid…and then all these years later say that families like ours shouldn’t exist…it’s just a betrayal and I’m personally offended,” Amber said.
Paxton’s opinion doesn’t scare Amber but she said she is concerned for what the future holds should the opinion become law.
“The temperature keeps rising, the pressure is growing against trans inclusive families, vilifying parents, trying to erase our children, tear families apart, send our kids to an already overwhelmed and broken foster care system,” Amber said. “It’s a distraction from the issues that affect average everyday Texans.”
Nothing in Paxton’s opinion or Abbott’s letter referenced foster care for children who have received a gender-affirming procedure.
Amber’s husband, Adam, on the other hand said even though the opinion isn’t law, he is fearful.
“It’s quite clear living in Texas, when you get all the mailers from all the conservatives that this is their top three priority issue,” he said. “They’re not going to let this go. So, just another turn of the crank and it’s very overwhelming.”
The Briggles said they are prepared to continue to fight and are urging allies to call their US senators and demand they pass The Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation for employment and housing opportunities, among others.
Katie Laird, a Houston parent of a transgender 15-year-old son, said she wants everyone to be a part of this conversation – not just parents of trans children.
“Something that I think is lost in a lot of this conversation and the headlines is that, really supporting trans kids as a parent, it’s about love in action, it’s listening to our kids when they tell us who they are and what they need and then taking that informed thoughtful action, which is the exact opposite of child abuse,” she said.
“So needless to say, I am wildly disgusted by the Texas Governor and Attorney General’s decision to really attack our Texas children…robbing families, to question that love in action.”
Laird said her son is someone who’s passionate about standing up for the marginalized and he wasn’t entirely surprised when she told him about Paxton’s opinion “because he lived through 2021 and all of the varieties and flavors of anti trans bills that happened.”
“We are desperate to keep our trans kids alive and healthy and happy,” Laird said. “We’re confused and spending all of these hours together trying to figure out exactly what our legal rights are … I mean, it’s this dangerous and deadly political theater that’s being played at the expense of the babies … of children.”
Both Paxton and Abbott are up for reelection this year. Abbott will face Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke, and Paxton advanced to a runoff in May with George P. Bush for the Republican nomination for Texas attorney general.
Support from far and wide for trans youth in Texas
Violet recognizes not every parent has the means to pack up and move to another state, but said without the financial donations and support of strangers to her GoFundMe, she wouldn’t be able to make the move either.
“It’s kind of a vulnerable thing to ask for help,” she said. “I was and I’m still pretty terrified but now that there’s a little bit more of a financial boost, a little more financial support, I feel a lot more confident that I can do this.”
The support from strangers has been overwhelming, she said. Emails from people in California, Maryland and Maine have flooded her inbox with offers to help find accommodations in their state.
“It’s crazy how supportive people are and that is not the vibe that I have gotten from Texans after we started Isa’s social transition.”
When Isa socially transitioned, Violet said she had to change daycare facilities because they weren’t accepting of Isa’s transition, and finding a therapist in her health care network to answer some of the questions Isa had through her transition proved to be a challenge. When Gov. Abbott signed a bill restricting transgender student athletes’ participation in school sports in 2021, Violet said that was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
During the summer Violet and Isa will make the move to California, she said, a state whose governor has made it known that they will be safe there.
“Trans kids and their families should be celebrated - not targeted by the state!,” California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted Wednesday. “They are heroes. This order is a direct assault on their wellbeing. To fearful families in Texas right now - California’s door is always open to you.”
Other state and local officials also responded to Paxton’s opinion. Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee released a statement saying Paxton and Abbott are “ignoring medical professionals and intentionally misrepresenting the law to the detriment of transgender children and their families.”
“My office will not participate in these bad faith political games. As the lawyers handling these cases, we owe a duty of candor to the courts about what the law really says,” Menefee said. “We’ll continue to follow the laws on the books – not General Paxton’s politically motivated and legally incorrect ‘opinion.’ “
Following the news about Paxton’s opinion, celebrities have expressed their disdain for all that it entails and pledged their support to Texas’ trans youth.
“This is where we are,” actress Gabrielle Union tweeted Wednesday. “We shot past dangerous and horrific a long time ago. The rubber has hit the road so who is standing shoulder to shoulder in this fight?”
Zaya, former NBA star Dwyane Wade’s daughter and Union’s stepdaughter, is transgender.
In an Instagram story and tweet in February, trans actress Mj Rodriguez posted an emotional plea asking others to spread awareness about the opinion.
“PROTECT TRANS YOUTH!,” she wrote on Twitter. “Most trans youth come to there parents, especially ones who are supportive, when it comes to furthering their transition. THAT IS NOT ABUSE. The youth of 2022 are much more aware of themselves through knowledge and safe positive influence! Stop attacking us!”
CNN’s Scottie Andrew, Amir Vera, Ashley Killough and Emma Tucker contributed to this report.