A few examples of ways to help transgender children: Allow them to play sports. Allow them to use the bathrooms they are comfortable using. Stop banning LGBTQ-friendly books from school libraries. Require physicians to be trained in best practices for care of transgender patients. Call teenagers by the names and pronouns they ask to be called.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) could have asked the government employees of his state to perform any one of these basic acts. Instead, this week he came up with his own hideous way to “protect" children. He wrote a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services portraying transgender-specific health care, such as puberty-blocking drugs, as “child abuse.” The letter further advised “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children,” including teachers and doctors, to “report such child abuse” to DFPS, and said those who don’t could be subject to criminal penalties.
Finally, the governor’s letter says that “Texas law also imposes a duty on DFPS to investigate the parents of a child who is subjected to these abusive gender-transitioning procedures.”
It is not clear whether anything in Abbott’s letter will carry much legal weight — some county attorneys have already said they have no plans to enforce the directive. This all might be election-priming: tossing bones to his base, riling up columnists and getting them to write appalled columns.
Oh, well. Consider me riled. Abbott’s letter is repulsive.
His grand plan to deprive transgender youths of medical care depends on neighbors and caregivers turning into informants. It creates a culture of fear and paranoia.
Targeting parents — making them vulnerable to scrutiny by the Department of Family and Protective Services — is a particularly cunning strategy. It strips trans children of their most important potential allies and advocates. How many parents will now be afraid to speak up for the needs of their trans children in school board meetings, fearing that doing so would have them investigated for child abuse? How many will second-guess bringing their feverish kids to the pediatrician, worrying that antibiotics may come with house calls from DFPS?
That seems to be the point. Abbott’s clause regarding parents is reminiscent of his state’s antiabortion legislation, which penalizes not the patients who receive abortions but rather the physicians who perform them, by deputizing average citizens to sue the doctors themselves. Such obfuscating provides the thinnest veneer of compassion to a heartless directive; it allows Abbott to appear as though he’s saving vulnerable populations (transgender youths; pregnant people) instead of making their lives harder.
The bigger picture in all of this is, of course, “the children.”
How ultra-conservatives like Abbott have finagled the moral high ground on issues of children I will never understand, but here we are. Doctors and nurses are being discouraged from properly treating their underage transgender patients for the sake of the children. Women and pregnant people must cede control of their own bodies and reproductive choices for the sake of the children — or, in the case of unwanted pregnancies “the pre-born.”
Last year, Abbott signed a bill into law limiting how slavery and race are taught in public schools, and bills like this are also allegedly for the children, who must be protected from the discomfort of difficult history. Also for the sake of the children, allegedly: a bill advanced by Florida House Republicans this week. Dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill by its opponents, the Parental Rights in Education bill would prohibit “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Elaborate concern for the children is often presented as an unassailable position, but folks, it is time to assail the bejesus out of it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has supported “comprehensive gender-affirming and developmentally appropriate health care” for transgender youths. Any legislation or directive that purports to know more than the AAP is not acting on concern for the children.
It is punching down at a population that already experiences higher rates of bullying and violence than their cisgender peers.
It is discouraging empathy and understanding for trans people and their families.
It is isolating those families, turning the helpers in their lives (teachers, doctors) into potential hazards, forcing them to wonder if they should leave their home state or risk being prosecuted.
It is placing the health and well-being of children and families under the jurisdiction of their governor’s personal moral compass, which in this case is not only out of whack but hurtful.
For God’s sake, Governor Abbott. Leave the children alone.