The Gonzales family outside the Oak Lawn Branch Library with U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

A 12-year-old shouldn’t have to defend her very existence to the Legislature

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

When Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order instructing Child Protective Services to investigate parents that were giving their trans children age-appropriate medical care, Libby was an old hand at the culture wars. By 12, Libby said, “I spent half my life begging my legislators to see me.”

She said they see her as a scary monster.

“The people leading our government should want me to have a good childhood,” she said. “My community gets it.”

Libby is wise beyond her years. She understands the support she has, not just from her family but from her community. But with the Legislature back in session, Libby said she doesn’t sleep very well. She said her younger brother had a nightmare that he was taken away from their family.

She said she just wants lawmakers to get out of the way and let her live her life.

Kelley Robinson, president and CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, said that across the country, 315 discriminatory bills were filed last year, and 29 were signed into law.

Last year, she said, the governor of Utah vetoed one of those bills, pointing out that exactly one trans child in the state was participating in school sports. The governor justified his veto by saying, “I want them to live.”

This year, Robinson said, bills are moving fast. In South Dakota, Gov. Christi Noem signed a bill into law earlier this week denying healthcare to transgender residents.

“Don’t Say Gay bills are moving,” Robinson said. “Bathroom bills are back.” And new kinds of bills — against using pronouns, attacking drag queens — are being filed, she said.

And in Texas, Robinson said, “They’re expending energy attacking trans youth and not fixing the grid.”

Cathryn Oakley, HRC’s state legislative director and senior counsel, said that while 91 percent of the bills proposed last year were defeated, “nothing short of 100 percent success rate is acceptable.”

She said at least 340 bad bills have been filed across the country, making this already the year with the most anti-trans legislation ever proposed.

Libby’s mother, Rachel Gonzales, said those bills have real consequences in real people’s lives. And it’s not just Libby’s life that’s affected. It’s everyone around her.

And that, Gonzales said, is political theatrics.

“It’s crazy to assume this is siloed to just the transgender family member,” Gonzales said. “My son and daughter are terrified my family is going to be torn apart. They are so scared Frank [her husband] or I are going to be taken to jail.”

She said each of her three children know that if CPS shows up at their school, they’re to tell them they have an attorney who must be contacted immediately. What child in a happy and healthy home should live under that threat?

As a temporary fix, Gonzales said, she and her family are covered by an injunction issued by a judge last year in a case that PFLAG filed challenging Abbott’s executive order.

Legislators are conflating social, legal and medical transition. Bills that prevent counseling of trans youth are justified as preventing surgery, which simply isn’t done on a minor. Hormone blockers, which are completely reversible, are discussed as if they cause permanent changes.

But neither science nor facts are at play here.

And neither is the health and happiness of trans youth.

What is at work is millions of dollars in donations, Oakley said.

She pointed out that there’s little difference in bills being written from one state to the next. That’s because they’re being written by the Family Policy Alliance, named an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“The biggest differences are in the remedies,” Oakley said. “Taking a doctor’s license, requiring prohibitively expensive malpractice insurance.”

Lorie Burch is an attorney who specializes in guardianships and setting up estates. She recently put together a document on ways parents of LGBTQ kids can protect them through the law. Among her suggestions is to choose affirming professionals.

“Keep your family as private as possible,” Burch suggests.

Use an LGBTQ attorney who understands the family dynamics to set up guardianships, estates and powers of attorney. Nothing can be scarier than the thought of your child entering the broken Texas foster system.”

While doctors are the target of much of the proposed anti-trans legislation, use a doctor that will understand the law as well as the trans youth.

“Choose schools that are affirming,” Burch recommends. “I got bullied in high school. I wasn’t out, but I didn’t dress all girly. I have scars from that bullying.”

She recommends steering clear of schools in districts where the right wing is trying to pack school boards. While not everyone can afford private schools, there are a number of charter schools that affirm their LGBTQ students.

“There are far more attacks this year than any time in recent memory,” Burch noted.

Yet despite the attacks, she said she has no plans to leave Texas because she has as much right to live here in peace as anyone.

What plans does the Gonzales family have? They’re leaving their options open.

“It depends on what our legislators do,” she said. “I’m so tired of fighting for my kid to just have a life. I’m not going to sit by.”

Leaving Texas is not off the table, but it is a last resort.

Gonzales said she’s not going to stand for discriminatory legislation that contradicts the advice of every legitimate medical and psychological organization.
“It’s a slippery slope, asking neighbors to turn families in,” she said. “How is that not fascism?”

And although Libby has come into her own as a public speaker, “she’s just so tired of this,” her mother said.

The family thought going to Austin and talking to their detractors face to face would change some minds.

“It doesn’t change their minds,” Gonzales said. “They’re being held hostage by massive donors. But our kids’ lives are not up for debate.”

On top of everything else, as the debate heats up, there’s been an uptick in violence and bullying. Two children’s hospitals involved in transgender care have received bomb threats.

“Libby’s just so tired of this,” Gonzales said. “Comments are being made to her face. All we want to do is keep our kids safe.”

And that, according to our governor, is reason enough to investigate this otherwise happy family.