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Opinion In Texas, it is the politicians who are abusing transgender children

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) (Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is locked in a contentious Republican primary as he seeks reelection. Gov. Greg Abbott is being criticized as not conservative enough from Republican opponents who want to deny him a third term. So it is probably not a coincidence of timing that just days before Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Paxton and Mr. Abbott set their sights on what they no doubt see as a convenient and easy political target: transgender youths and their parents.

Mr. Paxton, embattled by accusations he abused his office and accepted bribes, provided the opening salvo. He issued a legal opinion that gender-affirming medical treatment for adolescents, such as puberty-suppressing drugs and hormones, can legally constitute child abuse. Mr. Abbott followed suit this week with a directive to state health agencies to conduct “prompt and thorough” investigations into the use of gender-affirming care for transgender children. Raising a threat of criminal prosecution, the governor called on licensed professionals in Texas — including doctors, nurses and teachers — to report families who provide such medical treatment for their children. Since Mr. Abbott signed into law the measure that made bounty hunters out of citizens as a means of enforcing an unconstitutional ban on abortion, his assault on other medical procedures comes as no surprise.

Voices Across America: I’m the mother of a trans son in Texas — and no, I’m not a ‘child abuser’

Neither Mr. Paxton’s nonbinding legal opinion nor the governor’s directive has any effect on state law or the courts, and some protective service officials said they would ignore the directives. Nonetheless, the statements from Mr. Paxton and Mr. Abbott ignited panic and anxiety among transgender youths facing the challenges of their identity, as well as families and caregivers trying to do what is best for them. There was worry about false investigations being launched. And the possibility — no matter how remote — that their child could be taken from them has unnerved families trying to navigate already fraught social and health-care decisions.

Contrary to the outdated, inaccurate and intentionally misleading information cited in the attorney general’s opinion, gender-affirming treatment for children and adolescents suffering from gender dysphoria is supported by every major medical association in the United States, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. Decisions about treatment are made with care and thought and consultation; research has established that transgender youths at risk of mental health problems and suicide benefit when their gender identity is affirmed. And, despite what Mr. Paxton and Mr. Abbott would have you believe, there are not hordes of children being lined up for invasive surgeries. Treatment for children and adolescents involves almost exclusively nonsurgical interventions.

Mr. Paxton and Mr. Abbott are not alone in seeing political advantage in attacking transgender children. Across the country, mostly in Republican-controlled states, bills are being lined up to ban transgender children from participating in sports according to their identity, to prohibit classroom discussion about gender identity and to bar gender-affirming medical treatments. That some of these same politicians have railed about government overreach and the rights of parents to make decisions about their children underscores their blatant opportunism and hypocrisy.

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