1. An Explanation To Begin With
Ed. Note: For a third week in a row, I am devoting my essay to the war on transgender kids waged by our state’s so-called leaders. When I signed up for this newsletter, I did not imagine I would devote a lot of my energies to an arcane but important area of state policy. And so it is fair to ask why I seem fixated on this issue, and here is my answer (as of 9:00 p.m. tonight).
This is about everything that’s wrong with Texas. We are a state with boundless natural resources, and even greater blessings of human talent and potential. But our government is led, at the state level, by men (and they are all men) of such small-minded pettiness and casual cruelty as to embarrass tinpot dictators in Third World countries. They not only fail to perform their duties as elected officials, but they actually make life worse for many Texans, particularly the young, the old, and people of color.
- With schools underfunded for at least a generation and teachers abandoning their vital profession in droves, our leaders screech about critical race theory (which does not even exist in K-12 education) and call – literally! – for the destruction of books in school libraries.
- With the highest number and percentage of its citizens medically uninsured in the nation, and an epidemic of rural hospitals closing, our leaders starve the existing Medicaid program with stingy eligibility criteria and low reimbursement rates, and refuse to expand the program to cover more poor people. Local taxpayers take up the slack for indigent health care.
- After millions of Texas were trapped without power during last year’s freeze, our leaders did nothing substantive to ensure it would never happen again – but happened to pocket millions in energy and natural gas company campaign contributions.
- And this batch of leaders has been in power so long that they don’t even feel the need to explain their venality and corruption anymore, assuming – probably correctly – that ignorant voters will keep them in power.
As another Exhibit to this catalogue of depredations, I offer the sad, pathetic and psychologically bizarre crusade against transgender teens which has become especially virulent in the last few years. Talk about punching down: these young Texans are subjected to daily messages about their difference and inadequacy FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT. Their parents and friends are investigated as child abusers, as are medical and psychological professionals helping them to live a meaningful life.
And how do our leaders propose to “protect” these vulnerable children? By dragging them into a child care system that is a national scandal and embarrassment, and about which our leaders demonstrably intend to do as little as necessary to get its appalling failures off the front pages and evening newscasts.
When did we decide that Texas should be such a mediocre state, governed by mediocre liars, crooks and bullies?
2. The War on Transgender Kids – A Review
A timeline is helpful to understand the breadth and viciousness of Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton’s war on transgender children.
- In 2021, the Texas Legislature declined during four sessions to criminalize gender-affirming care for teenagers in Texas. That should have been the end of it.
- In August, Governor Greg Abbott asked the head of the Department of Family and Protective Servcies (DFPS) whether gender-affirming care constituted child abuse. Unsatisfied with her answer, a GOP House member asked the AG’s Office for a formal opinion on the same question.
- On February 16, Paxton’s office issued its opinion: gender-affirming care for Texas teens likely constitutes child abuse. The opinion, like all AG Opinions, is non-binding and strictly advisory.
- On February 22, Abbott issued an order directing DFPS to investigate any instances of gender-affirming care for teens as child abuse. This list of potential abusers to be investigated included parents, counselors, medical providers and anyone else who might have participated in a teen’s transition.
- On March 1, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of one of the targets of an investigation, and on March 2 a judge granted a temporary restraining ordertelling the state to cease and desist its investigation until a preliminary hearing could be held on March 11. General Paxton immediately appealed the TRO, which an appellate court upheld on March 9.
- On March 11 a temporary injunction was granted, directing the state to cease all such investigation until a full trial on the merits could be held in July.
- That same night, Paxton appealed the temporary injunction and meanwhile directed DFPS to continue its investigations, on the theory that his appeal suspended the temporary injunction. On Tuesday, the Third Court of Appeals promptly reinstated the injunction, explicitly rejecting Paxton's novel interpretation of what "temporary injunction" means.
- On Wednesday, Paxton appealed the Third Court’s decision to the Texas Supreme Court (SCOTEX) and asked it to allow the child abuse investigations to continue in the meantime. No word yet on that appeal.
To summarize: Paxton has already lost four times in one month, and the trial on the merits is not scheduled until July. At every defeat, he has asked to continue the investigations. The astonishing thing is the hellbent determination evinced by both Abbott and Paxton to turn every resource at the State’s command – Now! Now! Now! – into investigating and punishing these children, their families and their health care providers.
3. Finally! Going After Big Pharma! Oh, Wait …
On another front, Paxton announced Thursday that the Attorney General’s Office is investigating two pharmaceutical companies whose puberty blocker medicines are being prescribed to and/or used by teens seeking gender-affirming treatment. The two pharmaceutical companies “advertised and promoted hormone (puberty) blockers for unapproved uses without disclosing the potential risks associated with these drugs to children and their parents,” claimed Paxton. The investigation began last December, but Paxton publicly sent some letters Thursday to make sure the media knew he was on the job.
4. How Abbott/Paxton Win: The Crusade's Chilling Effect
Unfortunately, the crusade against transgender children and their families is having its intended chilling effect, even though the Legislature has not changed the State’s policy in this regard. As reported by The Texas Tribune, the few medical facilities in Texas willing to treat transgender kids are shutting down.
Texas Children’s Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital in the country, stopped providing hormone therapy to transgender children earlier this month. A spokesperson said the Houston-based hospital was assessing Abbott’s directive and that the decision to discontinue the service was made to avoid “potential criminal ramifications.”
Legacy Community Center, another major provider in Houston for transgender children, also paused hormone therapy for minors after the directive was announced, according to advocates for transgender Texans who work closely with the clinic. Legacy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
And in Dallas, GENECIS — Gender Education and Care, Interdisciplinary Support — the state’s largest gender-affirming program, formally dissolved in November. The closure was in response to pressure from the governor’s office and a Texas House investigative committee, according to recordings of internal meetings obtained by The 19th. Existing patients can continue hormone therapy, but new patients at GENECIS can only access psychiatric evaluations and counseling and be evaluated for gender dysphoria.
The Texas Tribune also reports that individual doctors, psychologists and counselors are backing away from treating their patients:
The doctor told her he could no longer prescribe her son’s treatment. The medical malpractice insurance carrier, he explained, had stopped covering doctors who offered hormone therapy to minors. …
But in response to the Texas GOP’s recent efforts to limit scientifically backed gender-affirming care, LGBTQ advocates say hospitals, insurance companies and pharmacies across the state had already started restricting critical treatment for fear of legal consequences. ... Health care providers worry they could lose their medical licenses if they don’t abide by Abbott’s directive.
It all adds up to a war of intimidation against trans youth and the people who care for them, driven by … what? Transphobia? Culture war expediency? Election year jitters? Abbott issued his order eight days before he won a hard-fought primary victory. Paxton still faces a May runoff and will certainly leverage his street cred as a trans-bully. But crass electoral politics does not seem to explain the prurient ardor with which this crusade has been prosecuted, much less excuse the damage they are doing to transgender youth.
Texans should be ashamed of them … and of ourselves for electing them.