This essay first appeared in TIME
In 2016 the Attorney General of Texas came to my home for dinner.
It was an unlikely gathering: I’m the mother of a transgender child and Attorney General Ken Paxton is one of the biggest threats to my child’s future. My son, Max, was in 3rd grade when a reporter asked me how I felt about a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block federal guidelines meant to protect trans students in school. It was a case that Paxton himself led alongside attorneys general from 12 other states, and thinking about how a powerful man like that could target vulnerable trans kids like Max left me with a lot of feelings — hurt, anxiety and rage, among them. But rather than lash out, I offered an olive branch: come meet my family.
When that reporter caught up to Paxton later that day, she relayed my dinner invitation. In front of cameras, he agreed.
My family hoped that by finding common ground, we could get Paxton out of the political world and meet him on a personal level, away from the cameras, political strategists and lobbyists. We hoped he might see that Max is not so different than Paxton was when he was a boy. But despite a home-cooked meal and a promise that he’d remember Max when he got back to Austin, Paxton has forgotten us.
Last week, our dinner guest joined other conservative politicians in weighing in on a private custody battle involving a 7-year-old transgender girl. The mother supports her child’s gender identity and wants to give her space to socially transition as a girl, using a new name and pronouns, wearing dresses and growing her hair out. The father disagrees and insists she’s actually a boy, as her birth certificate says. “This is horrifying & tragic. For a parent to subject such a young child to life-altering hormone blockers to medically transition their sex is nothing less than child abuse,” Ted Cruz tweeted, despite the fact that the mother had said the child is too young for any treatment with hormonal suppression, puberty blockers or gender reassignment surgery to be considered.
Strikingly, his tweet included a published photo of the child. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a tweet, in which he used the name the child was given at birth, stating the “matter” was being looked into. And indeed, Paxton’s office contacted the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, also referring to the child by name, urging them to investigate this mother, and then tweeted the letter.
For years, we heard these same politicians talk about the importance of “privacy and safety” while pushing the so-called “bathroom bills” that would have restricted my son’s access to the bathroom consistent with his identity, thus making it impossible for him to be anywhere in public — including his own elementary school. Now these same champions of privacy are disclosing a child’s private information to the world and jeopardizing her safety in the process.
As if that were not enough, politicians are now taking steps to block essential health care for transgender children, too. State Representative Matt Krause weighed in last week, promising to introduce a Texas bill to outlaw “puberty blockers” for transgender children under 18. Another legislator, Steve Toth, has pledged that the first bill he will introduce in the next legislative session will make the “transitioning of a minor” illegal. Similar bills are already being proposed in Georgia and Kentucky.
While these statements and actions might be good for riling up these politicians’ bases, they can actually do significant harm to the very children they claim to want to protect. Decades of research prove that treatments for transgender children are safe, effective and life-saving. Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement urging support and care of transgender and gender-diverse youth that it recommends, among other things, “providing youth with access to comprehensive gender-affirming and developmentally appropriate health care” and “supporting insurance plans that offer coverage specific to the needs of youth who identify as transgender, including coverage for medical, psychological and, when appropriate, surgical interventions.” When people like Rep. Krause propose withholding puberty blockers from transgender teens, they show profound ignorance about when puberty commences and the role puberty blockers play.
Besides worrying about my child’s ability to access appropriate medical care, I also now have to worry that he could be denied access to us, his loving parents. In contrast to persistent misinformation on the topic, studies show that when trans kids are affirmed, their mental health is about the same as their cisgender peers (their peers whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth). According to the Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, young people who had even one supportive adult in their lives were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. Removing a trans child from an accepting home can literally put their life in danger. This isn’t something we should be playing politics about.
If Gov. Abbott, Senator Cruz or Rep. Krause really want to know what it’s like to raise a transgender child, they can contact me, or anyone on the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council, parents across the country fighting for the rights of our kids. And if Attorney General Paxton needs a refresher on what we talked about at dinner, I’m sure Max would like to recount every detail: what we ate, the magic tricks they did together or the song Max and I played on the piano while Paxton and his wife applauded. If any of these politicians took the time to listen, they’d learn that we are an average American family. All those of us with transgender kids are asking is for politicians to stay out of our private lives and let us continue to raise our children in the most loving environments we can provide. For political leaders who care so much about privacy, that shouldn’t be too difficult.