AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a new state directive defining gender-affirming care for transgender children as “child abuse” in the case of a 16-year-old teenager.
The temporary restraining order, which only applies to the plaintiffs in the case, came the same day that the Biden administration issued new federal guidance about the directive and urged Texans affected by it to file civil rights complaints with the federal government.
“These announcements make clear that rather than weaponizing child protective services against loving families, child welfare agencies should instead expand access to gender-affirming care for transgender children,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “In the United States of America, we respect the rights and dignity of all families.”
In issuing the temporary restraining order in the Texas case, Travis County District Court Judge Amy Clark Meacham said she would consider a statewide injunction on all such investigations on March 11. Meacham’s order said the plaintiffs in the case would suffer “irreparable harm” if the directive was not immediately halted.
An unnamed state employee whose teenager is transgender and a Houston psychologist, with the backing of the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal, sued to block the directive that state agencies investigate gender-affirming care as potential “child abuse.”
Gov. Greg Abbott issued the directive to state agencies last week, and several parents of trans kids say they have already been visited by child protective services to discuss their children’s health care.
Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Texas hailed the temporary restraining order while saying the state should never have targeted trans Texans’ access to health care in the first place. The momentary halt means the child protective services agency cannot investigate parents of transgender minors for providing gender-affirming care — for now.
“We are relieved that — at least for now — the threat of a child abuse investigation is no longer hanging over the heads of the family members in this case,” Paul Castillo, senior counsel for Lambda Legal senior, said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new federal guidance about Abbott’s directive and told Texans the administration may intervene on their behalf if warranted.
“HHS will take immediate action if needed. I know that many youth and their supportive families are feeling scared and isolated because of these attacks,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “HHS is closely monitoring the situation in Texas, and will use every tool at our disposal to keep Texans safe.”
Last week, Abbott told the Department of Family and Protective Services and any other state agencies that deal with children and their welfare to investigate any reports that transgender kids are receiving certain kinds of gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
Abbott based his directive on a nonbinding opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that interpreted the current definition of child abuse under state law as including these kinds of care.
The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Pediatrics all support providing age appropriate, individualized care for children experiencing gender dysphoria. The Texas Pediatric Society and Texas Medical Association also both urged Paxton not to target transgender children’s access to these treatments.
Abbott and Paxton, as well as other GOP politicians in Texas, have taken a more aggressive stance toward transgender youth and adults in recent years, targeting access to bathrooms, sports and health care. Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill requiring transgender minors to play on teams that match their assigned sex at birth. They failed, however, to approve a law that would have formally redefined gender-affirming care for minors as abuse.
LGBTQ rights continued to be a key rallying point for conservatives in Tuesday’s hotly contested Texas primary election. Abbott beat his GOP rivals and will face Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, in November. Paxton was forced into runoff with Republican challenger and Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
When the Paxton and Abbott issued their directives last week, the Biden administration issued a statement opposing the move. On Wednesday, it backed that up by releasing the guidance for state child welfare agencies and those with questions about patient privacy. The guidance says despite the state directives, health care providers are not required to disclose private patient information and underscored that denying health care because of gender identity is illegal.
It also urged those who believe they have been discriminated against because of their gender identity to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
“HHS is committed to protecting young Americans who are targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and supporting their parents, caretakers and families. That is why I directed my team to evaluate the tools at our disposal to protect trans and gender diverse youth in Texas, and today I am announcing several steps we can take to protect them,” Becerra said.