By Sydney Bauer
ATLANTA, March 15 (Openly) - With young transgender Americans caught in the middle of a culture war over LGBTQ+ rights, Texas has sought to clamp down on gender-transitioning medical treatments that Governor Greg Abbott says are "child abuse."
A Texas judge on Friday imposed a temporary injunction on investigations into parents that Abbott had ordered state child protection services to carry out, saying the probes endangered children and their families.
Friday's ruling marked a victory for LGBTQ+ groups, medical professionals and civil liberties advocates opposing moves by conservative politicians in dozens of states to criminalize the provision of gender-transitioning treatments for trans youth.
What is happening in Texas and how could it impact the wider battle over LGBTQ+ rights in the United States?
How did this start?
The directive issued by Abbott in February called on doctors, nurses and teachers to report cases of trans minors receiving gender-affirming medical treatment such as hormones or face criminal penalties.
Abbott's order was challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal on behalf of the family of a 16-year-old trans girl targeted for investigation.
District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum last week temporarily blocked an investigation of the teen's parents. At Friday's hearing, she approved a request to go one step further, stopping the probes statewide.
Representing the state, assistant attorney general Courtney Corbello had argued that gender-transitioning procedures involved administering controlled substances that physically and mentally impaired children.
The position was countered by doctors, testifying as expert witnesses, who said procedures such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy were safe, reversible medical treatments.
A spokesperson for the state's Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it had opened three investigations under the state directive prior to last week's court ruling.
What other legislation has Texas passed on trans youth issues?
Texas has proposed a number of bills related to trans minors in recent years.
Last year, it passed a law banning trans school children from being able to participate in sports teams that match their gender identity.
However, a bill that sought to outlaw gender-affirming surgeries and the prescribing of puberty blockers to trans teenagers failed to pass.
In 2019, Texas also passed a religious freedom law, which civil rights groups say could allow businesses to withhold services from LGBTQ+ people on the basis of religious objections.
How does the Texas order compare with trans-related legislation in other states?
More than 120 bills aimed at trans rights were proposed in U.S. states last year, mainly aimed at restricting access to sports and gender-affirming medical treatment for minors, according to LGBTQ+ rights organization Human Rights Campaign.
Abbott's directive was the first in the country to ask an agency to investigate families for providing gender-affirming medical care.
Arkansas, however, was the first state to introduce a law limiting access to such care for trans minors, although the ACLU has since launched a legal challenge.
Since the beginning of 2022, 17 states have introduced bills similar to the Arkansas law, although none have yet been passed.
Responding to Abbott's directive, the White House's Health and Human Safety (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra affirmed access to gender transition care for trans minors and reminded healthcare providers they are not bound to report patients.
"HHS is committed to protecting young Americans who are targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and supporting their parents, caretakers and families," Becerra said in a statement at the time.
President Joe Biden has previously called for civil rights protections to be extended to include gender identity.
What is likely to happen next in Texas?
The court injunction issued on Friday in Texas will remain in place until it is fully litigated and settled by a judgment or other means, with Meachum scheduling a trial to start July 11.
The Texas case comes in the run-up to November's mid-term congressional elections, with critics of these proposals accusing Republicans of seizing on issues surrounding gender identity as a wedge issue as they seek to retake the majority in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Karen Lowey, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said Abbott's directive was "politically motivated."
Despite the injunction, parents of trans children in Texas fear the state order threatens their basic rights.
Lauren Rodriguez, who has a trans son who is now over 18 and has moved away from the state, was visited by a child protection officer prior to Friday's ruling.
"It's so violating to have somebody come to your home and accuse you of being a child abuser," she said.
(Reporting by Sydney Bauer in Atlanta @femme_thoughts; Editing by Helen Popper and Hugo Greenhalgh; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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