Texas Just Re-elected My Trans Son’s Worst Bullies

The 2023 legislative session is almost here in Texas, and despite the years-long trauma that Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton have inflicted on transgender children like my son, all three were re-elected this year by wide margins. To say I feel betrayed by my neighbors—who know my trans-inclusive family and what we’ve been through this year—is a monumental understatement.

The last legislative session here in Texas—normally only 140 days every other year—dragged on over 10 months and saw 76 anti-LGBTQ bills filed, a majority of which specifically targeted trans kids and/or the parents and doctors trying to keep them alive. 

We’ve been fighting bathroom bills, religious refusal bills, child abuse bills, and bills banning gender affirming care for about as long as my son has been living authentically as a boy—which is to say, pretty much forever. Abbott, Patrick, and Paxton—my son’s biggest bullies—think that attacking children like him must be a winning strategy because, so far, no one has proved them otherwise. In fact, I fear that their recent victories gave them a mandate to double down on their cruelty, and I’m terrified.

Beto O’Rourke was far more visible on the campaign trail than the governor, drawing huge crowds everywhere he went, and yet he still lost by nearly 900,000 votes in the gubernatorial race. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the head of the State Senate who wields tremendous power over legislation, won his “rematch” against Democrat Mike Collier by over twice the margin as 2018 (4.8 percentage points vs. 10.3 points, respectively). Most upsetting for my trans-inclusive family was seeing criminally-indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton—a man who once broke bread with my family, only to now state that families like mine should not exist—defeat his opponent, Rochelle Garza, by nearly 10 percentage points—up by nearly 500,000 votes from 2018.

It’s not just the re-election of my son’s bullies that worries me about my son’s future. It’s the assault against trans kids everywhere. 

Just a few weeks ago, the nearby Frisco school district passed a policy that requires transgender and nonbinary students to use the bathroom that matches their assigned sex at birth. Nevermind that trans people are disproportionately at risk of assault when schools restrict their bathroom use, or that banning trans people from the bathrooms that align with their gender identity is already against federal law. Frisco’s conservative school board is far from alone: the Keller Independent School District voted to ban all books from school libraries that included transgender or nonbinary characters, a clear violation of Title IX and the First Amendment.

The afternoon before the deadly shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, I hosted a Transgender Storytime in my North Texas town. Our local public library had held this event for several years, but decided to cancel it last year after receiving threats of violence. Not wanting bullies to win, I quickly reorganized a new event and drew a crowd of hundreds. The day went off without a hitch, with a smattering of disorganized protestors across the street and a venue packed with smiling families. I had expected this year’s storytime to be just as festive and politically low-key as the last one, but heated protests—organized by a far-right group that was previously banned from Twitter until Elon Musk unleashed the floodgates—erupted outside. My family and I had to exit through the back door where we were met by the group’s leader, who recorded my children, as people shouted “Child Abuser!”, “Groomer!”, and “You belong in jail!”

My son is a 14-year-old star athlete, honor-roll student, and one of the most popular boys in 9th grade. We love him unconditionally, and it shows. His self-esteem, confidence, health, and intellect are off the charts. 

He socially transitioned in 2015 when he was in 1st grade, and met AG Paxton for dinner in our home the following year in an attempt to head off some of the worst anti-trans bills that were coming in the next legislative session. 

Despite our best efforts, it didn’t work: More than a dozen anti-transgender bills have already been filed here in Texas for 2023, with more on the way. Any one of these bills passing would harm my son and tear my family apart—or more likely, force us to leave the state that we love in order to stay together and keep my son alive. 

So you’ll excuse me when I say that while I’m relieved that the Republican “Red Wave” was little more than a puddle last month, the rest of y’all need to stop simply celebrating Democratic wins and start paying attention to what’s happening to trans-inclusive families in Texas. Just because election deniers lost key races across the country, Democrats still control the Senate, and ballot measures protecting abortion care did well everywhere, doesn’t mean trans kids are enjoying a cake walk down here in the Lone Star State. In fact, it’s so bad here that my family—and at least 12 more just like us—have been investigated this year by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) simply for having transgender children.

These unconstitutional privacy invasions began when our former dinner guest AG Ken Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion that equated my love and care for my son as child abuse. Days later, Gov. Abbott ordered that DFPS must investigate families if they receive a report of a transgender child. He simultaneously required mandated reporters (which include teachers, doctors, school counselors, and similar professions that work with children) to call DFPS to pass on information about transgender kids, which sounds like something out of a Gestapo training manual: spy on your neighbors, alert the authorities, have the parents sent to prison and the children taken into custody.

The following week, a DFPS caseworker was in my home interrogating my children individually and alone, while a lawyer I had scrambled to secure for my children recorded the meeting. Were my kids going to be taken away? Did we need to leave the state the moment the investigator drove off in order to stay together?

Imagine the terror: To love your children to the moon and back, to move heaven and earth for them, to walk through fire for them, to provide for their every need and shower them with love and care—and then be accused by top elected officials of child abuse, and have a government agent in your home investigating you. Then you face the possibility that your deeply-loved children could be taken away and thrown into a broken foster care system that has seen more than 100 children die under the “care” and “supervision” of the very people who were hired to keep them safe. Not because of poor parenting, but because a certain political party thinks that shitting on trans kids is a winning political strategy.

Our DFPS case was closed just a few hours before we sued Greg Abbott in court, but we fear a new case against us could still be opened. It’s not technically the way that DFPS is supposed to do things, but none of this has been legal from the start.

While we live in fear that we could be re-investigated, many parents who haven’t been contacted by DFPS (yet) have chosen to leave the state preemptively in order to avoid the trauma and fear that we were unfortunate enough to experience. 

Countless trans-inclusive families are now internally displaced Americans. Political refugees in the United States of America in 2022. All thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

As my husband and I examine our New Year’s resolutions for 2023, we’ve resolved that our biggest goal is fighting for our family. It will be a huge sacrifice to drive to Austin on a moment’s notice, only to testify to a mostly-empty room of legislators who have already made up their minds about us. But neither of us want a bill to pass knowing that we didn’t do everything to stop it, so we’re saving up gas money to go anyway.

We can’t do this alone, though. With parents of trans kids under attack now too, it’s even harder to convince them to drive to Austin, put their name on the public record, tell the people who want to lock them up that their child is transgender, and then hope DFPS doesn’t knock on their door the next day. The last time I testified, I received rape and death threats—and then a DFPS investigation. This is hard work.

Trans kids and their parents need your help. We’ve been screaming for years for your attention but there’s always something “more important.” I’m begging you to change that. Hold elected officials accountable when they target trans kids instead of doing their actual jobs like paving roads, funding schools, and keeping our communities safe from ACTUAL threats (note: it’s not a child whose genitals you really should stop obsessing over, weirdo). Retweet and amplify transgender activists like Chase Strangio, Gillian Branstetter, and Raquel Willis. Call out news organizations when they normalize anti-trans rhetoric (I’m looking at you, New York Times) when every major medical association in the nation supports gender affirming care for transgender minors. Show up for trans kids and their families: speak in legislatures and school board meetings in support of transgender youth. Donate to organizations like Lambda Legal and the ACLU who are working to stop anti-trans bills in court and providing pro-bono lawyers for families under fire. And run for office yourself at any level: school board, city council, justice of the peace, state legislator, congress, etc. Clearly any idiot can do it, so no excuses! Trans kids need you now more than ever.

My child’s rights matter too. Get to work.

This essay originally appeared in The Daily Beast

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