By Elizabeth Wolfe and Andy Rose, CNN
Three Texas families have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s investigations into parents who provide their transgender children with gender-affirming healthcare procedures, according to attorneys on their behalf.
The investigations, carried out by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, came after state Attorney General Ken Paxton released a non-legally binding opinion in February declaring that providing gender-affirming surgical procedures and drugs that affect puberty should be considered child abuse under Texas law.
Following Paxton’s declaration, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the DFPS to conduct investigations into parents and guardians who allow their children to receive the targeted treatments.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include three transgender children who have been prescribed gender-affirming medical treatment and their parents, who say they have been investigated by the department’s Child Protective Services for possible child abuse, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues the governor and DFPS are violating the constitutional and legal rights of transgender children and their parents. Filed on Wednesday in Travis County on behalf of the families and national LGBTQ organization PFLAG, the suit names Abbott, DFPS and its commissioner, Jaime Masters, as defendants.
“The Defendants have, without constitutional or statutory authority, acted to create a new definition of ‘child abuse’ that singles out a subset of loving parents for scrutiny, investigation, and potential family separation,” the lawsuit says.
At least nine investigations of minors receiving gender-affirming care were opened by the state following Abbott’s directive, a DFPS spokesman told CNN in March.
DFPS spokesperson Marissa Gonzales told CNN Wednesday, “We do not comment on specific abuse/neglect investigations, and this is already in litigation.”
Teen traumatized by investigation, suit says
Gender-affirming care is medically necessary, evidence-based care that uses multiple approaches to help a person transition from their assigned gender — the one the person was designated at birth — to their affirmed gender, the gender by which they want to be known.
Major medical associations have agreed that gender-affirming care is clinically appropriate for children and adults with gender dysphoria, which according to the American Psychiatric Association is psychological distress that may result when a person’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not align.
The surgical and hormone treatments targeted by Abbott and Paxton are just a handful of the treatments that children may receive, which also include mental health services, using a child’s chosen name and pronouns, and wearing clothing that allows them to feel more genuine.
In the case of one child — a 16-year-old referred to by the pseudonym “Tommy Roe” — the lawsuit says a CPS investigator interviewed the teen at school, alone and outside the presence of his parents. Tommy’s parents were also interviewed by CPS, the suit says.
“Tommy has been traumatized by the prospect that he may be separated from his family, while [his parents] and Tommy’s brothers are also filled with anxiety and worry,” according to the lawsuit.
PFLAG, a national LGBTQ organization to which the families who filed the suit belong, has also joined the suit on behalf of its members who may be impacted by Abbott’s directive and potential DFPS investigations.
“It is indefensible for any state leader to repeatedly attack trans Texans and weaponize the child welfare system against the loving families of transgender kids and teens,” said Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, which is representing the plaintiffs alongside the ACLU and Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that focuses on LGBTQ issues.
“We will continue to fight against these baseless attacks on our community. Transgender kids deserve to have life-saving gender-affirming care in Texas, so that they might live safely to grow up to be transgender adults,” Perez said.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the state to stop its investigations of the three families — as well as any other members of PFLAG — and seeks a judgment declaring that such DFPS investigations and Abbott’s letter are unconstitutional and violate Texas law.
“Parents and families across the state of Texas are fearful that if they follow the recommendations of their medical providers to treat their adolescent children’s gender dysphoria, they could face investigation, criminal prosecution, and the removal of their children from their custody,” the lawsuit says. “As a result, parents are scared to remain in Texas, to send their children to school or to the doctor, and to otherwise meet their basic survival needs.”
In March, a district court judge in Austin blocked the state from enforcing Abbott’s directive by issuing a temporary injunction. Abbott’s order was “beyond the scope of his authority and unconstitutional,” the judge said, and a trial was set for July. The state immediately challenged the statewide freeze on investigations but lost at Texas’ Third District Court of Appeals.
While the appeals process plays out in Texas courts, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the DFPS investigations can continue through the appeals process, but it blocked the agency from investigating the family that brought the initial suit in that case.
Significantly, the court also said in its ruling that Abbott’s directive to DFPS “cites no legal authority” and does not legally bind the agency to follow his instruction. The court also affirmed that Paxton’s legal opinion does not change current Texas law or DFPS’ legal obligations.
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CNN’s Ashley Killough, Amir Vera, Alisha Ebrahimji and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.