Emmett Schelling, TENT executive director, speaks outside the Travis County courthouse where a hearing was held to stop investigations targeting supportive families of transgender children, on March 2.
(Erich Schlegel/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
Advocates, allies speak out, push back against Abbott’s anti-trans directive
TAMMYE NASH | Managing Editor
The transgender teen and their family who last week sued Gov. Greg Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services over Abbott’s anti-trans directive to DFPS to investigate families supportive of gender-affirming healthcare for their trans children for child abuse won a small victory in court this week when an appellate court denied Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal of a temporary restraining order halting the DFPS investigation into that family.
That ruling means that a district court hearing on whether to expand the TRO beyond the plaintiff family to cover all such families in the state, set for Friday, March 11, will proceed. But more appeals are likely, and the legal battle will no doubt drag on, probably, for years.
But the pushback against Abbott’s directive, and against the non-binding opinion Paxton issued to provide basis for the directive, is coming hard and fast and from all directions — from the White House to local universities to Texas families.
The lawsuit, Doe v. Abbott, was filed last week by ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal, with support from Equality Texas, and includes a psychologist among its plaintiffs.
President Joe Biden last week issued a statement calling Abbott’s directive “government over-reach at its worst,” and putting “the state of Texas on notice that their discriminatory actions” are putting children’s lives at risk.
U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra issued a separate statement last week calling Abbott’s directive “discriminatory and unconscionable,” and urging any individual or family targeted for investigation based on the directive to contact the Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights.”
In response, Paxton — who is already facing possible sanctions for misconduct by the State Bar of Texas in connection with the frivolous lawsuit he filed with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election — amended his lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over guidances that allow the federal government to withhold funds from states — like Texas — that violate the transgender protections in the Affordable Care Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Real people, real consequences
The family that filed the Doe v. Abbott lawsuit includes a woman who works for DFPS, her husband and their trans teen, who were among the first to be contacted by a DFPS investigator, as well as Dr. Megan Mooney, a psychologist who says requiring her to report families for providing gender-affirming care for their trans children would require her to violate her personal ethics.
But they are not the only family under investigation. Trans advocate and ferocious mama bear Amber Briggle posted Tuesday, March 8 on her blog, Love To The Max, that her family is also under investigation, and that people need “to see that these illegal raids on loving families represent a tipping point. … It is time for a national reckoning.”
Briggle is the parent who, at the height of the Texas transgender bathroom wars in 2016, invited Paxton to her home to have dinner with her family, including her then-8-year-old trans son Max.
On the campuses
The fight is showing up on college campuses in DFW as well. Last week, students at the University of North Texas in Denton protested against an anti-trans political candidate speaking there. And this week, the Student Senate and the Faculty Senate at SMU passed resolutions decrying Abbott’s anti-trans directive.
Last week, a group called Texas Young Conservatives, led by student Kelly Neidert, brought Republican political candidate Jeff Younger to the UNT campus to talk about his campaign for the Texas House (he is in a runoff with Ben Bumgarner in House District 63 in Denton County) and his anti-trans agenda.
Younger, who has lost custody of both of his children to his ex-wife, has tried to block the trans child from receiving gender-affirming care, and insists on misgendering and dead-naming the child. Younger has accused his ex-wife of child abuse for supporting their child in identifying as female.
Younger’s presentation was cut short and he was escorted out of the classroom and off the campus by police after angry students packed the room and drowned him out with shouts of “Fuck these fascists,” while more students protested outside the building. The police car in which Younger was riding reportedly struck one of the protesters as it drove away.
In addition, a petition has been started at Change.org to “expel Kelly Neidert for harassment toward the trans community.” It has 18,721 signatures so far. According to the petition, Neidert has “perpetuated a hostile environment by encouraging and disseminating transphobic, racist and homophobic rhetoric,” and has “intentionally misgendered people, doxed trans people with the intent of her followers harassing them … .”
The mother of a trans student at UNT contacted Dallas Voice, saying that Young Conservatives of Texas is “targeting transgender students on campus but trying to shield it behind other agendas,” and that her child “has been cursed at and followed.” The mother said she fears for her child’s safety on the campus.
UNT President Neal Smatresk posted a statement on social media describing UNT as a “deeply diverse community of people from a variety of cultural, political, ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds,” adding, “Our campus community is inclusive and has long embraced, and been proud of, that very diversity,” and that “the last several days may have felt particularly difficult for the transgender members of our community, due to the intolerant views of a handful of campus members.”
But Smatresk then goes on to say UNT “values diversity of thought because it helps shape us all, whether it’s exposing us to new ideas or reaffirming who we want to be in the world. … All individuals have the right to peacefully assemble, to speak and to engage in expressive activity, including that which you may find offensive. Each of you has the freedom to express yourself and the freedom to walk away, disempowering those with intolerant views.”
The mother concerned for her child’s safety, however, told Dallas Voice the school is doing nothing to protect her child or other LGBTQ students from harassment. She wrote, “I am sincerely worried about the hate speech and escalation that is not being addressed by the administration on campus. My child does not feel safe to even go to class freely.”
The petition calling for Neidert to be expelled claims that her behavior is prohibited “under multiple sections of the University of North Texas’ student code of conduct,” and yet school administrators is setting a “double standard” by imposing “disciplinary action such as diversity and inclusion courses” on those speaking out against Neidert while Neidert herself “has received no punishment from the university for the flagrant abusive and violent behavior that she has exhibited.”
Dallas Voice reached out to Smatresk’s office but as yet has received no response.
Students and faculty at SMU this week spoke out against Abbott’s directive and the state’s assault on trans youth by passing resolutions in both the Student Senate and the Faculty Senate.
The Faculty Senate Resolution, approved Wednesday, March 9, “condemns the recent attacks on the transgender and non-binary community and stands in solidarity with the transgender and non-binary community,” and calls trans and non-binary students — including incoming students and all their families — “valued members of our communities [who] should be protected from persecution by the state.”
The resolution also “recognizes the importance of gender affirming care, the dignity of the transgender community and SMU’s vocation to embrace diversity and protect minorities, including transgender members, from hatred, harassment and discrimination” and “urges SMU to express its support and inclusion of the transgender and non-binary community by offering all-gender restrooms in each building of the campus and installing dispensers for menstrual hygiene products in all bathrooms in order in support of transgender and non-binary students, faculty and staff, and by making sure that courses on transgender studies are regularly taught on the campus.”
The school’s Student Senate approved a similar resolution Tuesday, March 8, opposing Abbott’s directive and declaring that trans and non-binary students and their parents “are valued.”
The Student Senate resolution also “recognizes the importance of gender affirming care and will endeavor to support The Transgender Education Network of Texas.”
Pia Vogel, a professor of biological sciences and president of SMU’s Faculty Senate, is also the mother of a transgender daughter. She is the one who proposed the faculty Senate Resolution, calling for an emergency meeting of the senate this week to vote on it.
“One of the other moms of a transgender man [on faculty at SMU] sent me the link to [Abbott’s directive to DFPS], and I just flipped out,” Vogel said Thursday morning after the Faculty Senate vote. “This is personal to me because I have a transgender daughter.”
She added that news of the directive was especially upsetting to her, coming as it did in the wake of efforts by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to end tenure and ban teaching of “critical race theory” at colleges and universities in the state. She said that the Faculty Senate, at its regular meeting last week, approved a resolution against those efforts, “and then I heard about this directive, and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, are they going to start burning books next?”
Vogel, who stressed that she was speaking on her own behalf and not on behalf of the Faculty Senate, said that some senate members were hesitant to vote on either of these resolutions because “they do not think we should take a stand on political opinions. But we are not taking a political stance here; we are just trying to protect our youth.”
Vogel said that people who think trans youth are being forced to transition, or that those considering transition are “just going through a phase just don’t understand. When my daughter came out, she was already 26 years old, but this is still a really hard thing for any family. That’s not something you do lightly. My daughter had already gone through therapy, unbeknownst to me, for a year, trying to figure out what was wrong, why she didn’t feel right. … To be willing to take all the discrimination and still want to take that step — that means she really had to do that. It was not a phase.”
Vogel added, “The majority of transgender kids, especially in a state like Texas, will not have supportive parents. So they are already living in hell. Now, on top of that, to be told by the state that being against them is the right stance for their families to have — I just have no words for that. Ridiculous, impossible, mean, malicious — I just can’t find the words.”
Donna Binkowski, a professor in SMU’s Department of World Languages and Literatures who is also on the Faculty Senate, has an adult transgender son. Her son was a freshman at “a top-tier women’s college” when he “reached the decision to begin living as his true self and began the process of transition, with the absolute support of his family, excellent health care and tangible acceptance from the university.” Even then, she said, “it was a long and difficult process.”
While her son is now 28 year old, married and a practicing social worker, Binkowski said in a written statement supporting the resolution, “how much of that might have been lost if the faculty had made him feel, overtly or by omission, that he was not welcome or safe there as a transgender person? Our governor and attorney general have targeted transgender children and their parents, but how SMU responds will impact how our transgender colleagues and students, and those we may not realize are struggling with their identities, feel about their safety and acceptance in their university community, where we claim to value all our students’ identities.”
Binkowski’s son added, “The people writing these bills act like they can force kids to grow up and be cisgender, but really they’re just going to grow up depressed or not grow up at all. As a social worker, it’s also concerning because if any mandated reporter is legally required to report parents of trans kids, then we’d have to choose between breaking the law or breaking our professional ethics.”
For an attorney’s assessment of Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s directive, see the analysis by Kassie Hines with O’Neil Wysocki Law on Paxton’s opinion.