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Texas Transgender Youth Law Would Criminalize Parents, But They’re Fighting Back

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A new bill in Texas would criminalize parents with a felony if they support their transgender kids in accessing scientifically backed gender-affirming care. If the bill is passed and enacted, it would be the first law in the U.S. not blocked by the courts to make helping your kid get gender-affirming care a felony. Trans people, parents, and allies in the state are doing everything they can to prevent that from happening.

The bill, authored by State Representative Cole Hefner, would allow both parents and healthcare providers to be charged with felony abandonment of a child for providing their kid access to puberty blockers or hormone therapy for gender transition. The bill proposes that they be able to be charged with up to a second-degree felony, which can result in up to 20 years in jail, according to the Houston Chronicle. Notably, the bill provides exceptions for intersex children.

Earlier this year, Alabama passed a similar law that made providing a minor with gender-affirming care a felony, but shortly after it was enacted, it was blocked by a federal court.

“I know kids that are becoming young adults and still feel like they have nowhere to go. They have the love and support of their family, but they’ve been fighting against their government what feels like their whole life — because it has been a majority of their life,” says Andrea Segovia, senior policy and field advisor at the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT). “There is no way that you can dismiss that Texas is the leading state for violence against trans people, and also the state that files the most anti-LGBTQ bills. They go hand in hand with each other.”

Anti-trans laws have been introduced in 34 states this year alone, including anti-trans sports laws, bans on gender-affirming care, and laws that prevent trans kids from being out at school. But the new bill enters uncharted territory in how it criminalizes the decisions of parents, kids, and doctors. Here, Segovia talks about what chance she thinks the bill has of passing, why this kind of legislation has wide-ranging impacts for all parents, and what can be done now.

The Texas bill that would make getting gender-affirming care for your trans kid a felony. Is that likely to pass?

It’s too early to tell. I want to say ‘no,’ because I have been in the space of legislative work in Texas since 2017 with the bathroom bill, and the amount of organizing and this creativeness that community has to stop harmful legislation is so unique to Texas.

We know nationally that if we stop harmful legislation in Texas, we tend to stop it throughout the country. I think that’s very apparent with, unfortunately, the trans athlete ban that had passed last legislative session. We now see it being a law in [18 states].

You’re often able to stop these anti-LGBTQ bills from passing in Texas. How?

2017…was the year of the bathroom bill. People heard about it across the country. People were outraged that the state of Texas spent a million dollars to try to have this bathroom bill passed. We stopped all [those] bills from happening. In 2019, we had [many] anti-LGBTQ bills filed, mostly around religious freedoms and religious exemptions, but [just one] one bill passed. It was the ‘Save Chick-fil-A’ bill, which basically allowed businesses to continue to have their discrimination protected, for lack of better words. That bill really did nothing. Then in 2021, we had [dozens and dozens of] anti-LGBTQ bills filed. Only the anti-trans sport bill passed.

I have to remind people that even though it feels like we’re constantly [losing the battle against anti-trans legislation], we are defeating them. And it shouldn’t be a game of defense. We should be trying to pass good legislation to help people in our state. But as the record shows, because of the unique organizing that our communities do here in the state of Texas, we stop harmful legislation from happening.

What should parents of trans kids in Texas be thinking about at this point? Should they consider leaving?

I don’t like that notion at all. Every person has to choose what’s right for their family. But no person should be forced out of their home or felt that they need to leave their home. And that’s the same conversation that we had in February, again with the DFPS attacking trans youth and their families.

The conversation that we’ve been having with families that have trans people in it is: what are you doing to support the trans person in your life? What are you doing to support yourself in making sure that you are okay? And how are you using who you are to talk to legislators and local government officials?

How are you as an ally, as a parent, making sure that the trans person in your life feels seen? Because that’s what matters.

But most of all, for these parents, it’s: how are you supporting your youth? Because ultimately, that’s what matters. It’s this constant fight to make sure that trans people are not erased. That’s their goal when creating this harmful legislation: It is to remove the community from the public eye. It started with bathrooms, and then before that, it started with trans people not even being allowed to walk down the street. [Editor’s Note: State laws that criminalized “cross-dressing” in the U.S. existed as early as 1848 and as late as 2011.] It’s moving towards trans youth not being able to be who they are at school, which is really their public space if you think about it.

So how are you as an ally, as a parent, making sure that the trans person in your life feels seen? Because that’s what matters. At the end of the day, yes, we want people to be advocates and we want people to be doing as much as they can. But realistically, that person in your life, the person who is the reason why you’re in this fight, that’s who matters the most.

Do you have any recommendations for ways to help that trans kid in your life feel seen?

I’ve had this conversation with a lot of parents across the state of Texas who are feeling, and especially as we go into the holidays, that the best way they can protect their kid is to hide them. Going to family gatherings, should I have them wear extra layers of clothes [to hide how their body has changed with hormones]? Should I use their deadname? [Editor’s Note: A deadname is a birth name a transgender person has since changed as part of their transition.]

Because not only were the attacks happening in February to families by government officials, but also from teachers, from their own family, from their own church. So understandably, it feels like the only place that my kid can be themselves in the protection of our home.

“Your kid is going to be who they are…It’s so crucial that you remain in their corner.”

We have strongly pushed back against that — because your kid is going to be who they are. You’ve shown them love, you’ve shown them that it’s okay, and you can’t go back on that. It’s so crucial that you remain in their corner.

As an ally, as a parent, as whoever you are in this space to an LGBTQ person, the most important thing you can do is affirm who they are, affirm who they love, affirm how they identify — especially in spaces where they’re not in. It can be viewed as a heroic trait if you’re in a room full of people and somebody’s misgendering someone or talking badly about them because, again, of how they identify. It’s easy if that person is not in the room to turn your head and be like, “I don’t agree, but I’m not going to get into it because they’re not even here.” But that’s the time that it matters the most.

How can parents engage in advocacy for trans kids?

Talk to literally anybody who you feel comfortable talking to. It can be your state rep, if you want to go that high. But in general, get more people involved. If you have family members and friends who are loving and accepting of the trans kid in your life, ask them, “Hey, have you talked to your city councilperson? Have you talked to your state rep? Have you talked to people in power about what it means to support a trans person, a trans youth, that isn’t your kid or you’re not so strongly connected to, but you still care about them?”

Because that’s the thing — for so many state officials, government officials, that’s their constant thing of, “I don’t know a trans person. I don’t know a trans youth. There’s not that many of them. Why should this matter? We should just get rid of them.” It’s really on allies to say, “Well, I know somebody and they matter to me. And they should matter to you. And I’m watching you, because this is concerning for me.”

It’s truly that radical idea of empathy and caring about somebody that’s not yourself that tends to flip this narrative and stop harmful things from happening. The notion that somebody could care about somebody else without being their parent, without being their partner, their best friend — it takes people aback. I watch it every legislative session where someone moves somebody because they tell them, “You should care the same way that I care, even if it’s not directly in my backyard.”

Right.

You don’t need to go and start an advocacy organization or go and advocate every hearing that we have at the legislative session. But do your part and talk to the people around you about things that are affecting you. It’s changing hearts and minds. And it takes time. Meet people where they are to understand what is actually happening versus what the media is portraying, what legislators are saying. It’s getting to know real people.

The bigger thing I would say to parents is that when you have a well-rounded kid, they’re connected with not only their family but the community that they’re a part of. Because there are going to be things that they experience not only right now but in their life that maybe their parent can’t relate to. But a trans adult in their life that they’ve gotten to know can understand what they’re experiencing or how they’re feeling.

It’s such a beautiful thing to see a trans youth be supported. They’re vibrant, they’re unstoppable, truly. Then they know that when I have a hateful person talking about me, who doesn’t even know me, they don’t matter because I know this giant group of people who have my back.

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