The Punxsutawney Spirit

Mixed Texas ruling allows trans youth parent investigat­ions


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court on Friday allowed the state to investigat­e parents of transgende­r youth for child abuse while also ruling in favor of one family that was among the first contacted by child welfare officials following an order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

The court did not rule on the merits of the investigat­ions — which were the first of its kind in the U.S. — only that lower courts in Texas oversteppe­d by trying to block all cases from going forward.

The mixed ruling by Texas’ highest civil court, which is made up of nine elected Republican justices, comes at a moment when GOP lawmakers across the U.S. are accelerati­ng efforts to impose restrictio­ns on transgende­r rights. Both parties in the lawsuit called the decision a victory.

Lambda Legal, which helped bring the lawsuit against Texas on behalf of the parents of the 16-yearold girl, called the decision a win because it put the state’s investigat­ion into their family on hold. Although the ruling does not prevent Texas from launching investigat­ions into other families, the state would be foolish to do so now because those families could also seek an injunction, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel and health care strategist for Lambda Legal.

“It would be both futile and a complete waste of resources for them to do so,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.

Texas went farther than any state in February when Abbott issued a first-of-its-kind order that instructed child welfare officials to investigat­e reports of gender confirming care for kids as abuse.

A judge in Austin put that order on hold after a lawsuit brought on behalf of the 16-year-old girl whose family said the state was already investigat­ing their family. It was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit marked the first report of parents being investigat­ed following Abbott’s directive and an earlier nonbinding legal opinion by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton labeling certain gender-confirming treatments as “child abuse.” The Texas Department of Family and Protective Service has said it opened nine investigat­ions following the directive and opinion.

Brian Klosterboe­r, a staff attorney with the ACLU leading the case, said the court’s decision was “largely good news,” citing the relief for his clients as well as the finding that Paxton’s opinion and Abbott’s directive are nonbinding and do not have a legal effect. Klosterboe­r said the court’s decision clarifies that the governor does not have the authority to change Texas law and though the state’s family services agency can decide whether to investigat­e, it is up to the courts whether the agency can take action against any family reported under this directive.

“His directive is I think what caused the most harm because it created a lot of fear and panic across the state” Klosterboe­r said.

According to Klosterboe­r, Paxton’s office filed an appeal within minutes of the decision.

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