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Texas judge suspends Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to treat gender-affirming care as child abuse

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/12/2022 Casey Parks
Lawyers during a court hearing in Austin on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) order that parents of transgender children be investigated for child abuse on March 11. © Sergio Flores/Reuters Lawyers during a court hearing in Austin on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) order that parents of transgender children be investigated for child abuse on March 11.

A Texas judge on Friday issued a temporary injunction blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) order to treat gender-affirming care as child abuse.

The decision by Judge Amy Clark Meachum stems from a lawsuit filed this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ legal advocacy group, on behalf of an anonymous family and a Houston-based psychologist. The lawsuit seeks to block a statewide directive ordering the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate parents for child abuse if they allow their children to medically transition genders. The court heard more than seven hours of testimony Friday before ruling against the state.

Courtney Corbello, an assistant attorney general for the state, argued that the court cannot “stop a state agency from doing what they are statutorily tasked with doing.” Corbello also argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing to seek a statewide injunction because the agency has not taken further action beyond an interview.

“All Jane Doe has been subject to is one investigation, one meeting with an investigator and nothing further,” Corbello said. “She’s not in the central registry for child abuse. She hasn’t had her child taken from her. Her child is not off of any medications or lacking any sort of medical treatment.”

“It can’t be that all it takes for the judicial branch to infringe on the executive branch’s ability to perform such a critical task in ensuring the welfare of the state’s children is simply to claim that you’re being investigated by DFPS, by the agency tasked with doing so, and you don’t want to be,” she continued.

The plaintiffs called Randa Mulanax, a Child Protective Services investigations supervisor who said she had resigned because the order upset her. Mulanax has worked in the Region 7 office, which includes Austin, since 2016. She oversees three investigators, and their office has begun investigating three families with transgender children.

In a typical investigation, Mulanax explained, an intake screener or a supervisor like herself contacts the person who reported the abuse and others with “credible information.” Mulanax and her colleagues then decide whether to pursue an investigation.


Video: Governor Abbott Receiving Backlash For Gender-Affirming Directives (CBS Dallas)

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Abbott’s Feb. 22 order took away that discretion, Mulanax said. In her testimony, she said that two days after Abbott issued his order, she and other managers were called into a virtual meeting and told not to put anything about the investigations in emails or text messages. Mulanax said that even in cases involving serious abuse, she has always used email and text messaging to discuss cases. In that same meeting, Mulanax said, her supervisors told staff that they could not label cases involving transgender youth as “priority none,” meaning unnecessary to investigate, and that they could not use alternative, less invasive methods to investigate the claims, either.

The only other cases treated that way, Mulanax said, are “child death cases” or ones involving a conservatorship.

In a typical case, she testified, investigators might contact psychiatrists, pediatricians or other doctors for their opinions. “If they’ve already recommended these treatments, it is not our position to step in and say they are incorrect,” Mulanax said.

FAQ: What you need to know about transgender children

The governor’s opinion, and the DFPS response to it, felt like “overreach,” Mulanax said. “It was placing us in a situation that the department should not be in. We are not qualified to say that statements from a doctor and a psychiatrist and other medical professionals is not correct.”

Mulanax said she submitted her resignation on Wednesday but plans to keep working until March 31.

“I’ve always felt at the end of the day, the department has children’s best interest at heart and families’ best interest at heart,” she testified. “I no longer feel that way with this order.”

The court also heard from both plaintiffs, as well as two doctors who treat transgender children.

DFPS also held a separate hearing Friday where it solicited public comment on the new order. Agency officials said they have opened nine investigations against parents of transgender children. Families with transgender children are afraid to testify in public, advocates say, so organizations such as Equality Texas solicited volunteers to speak on their behalf. Many were in tears, a person who attended the hearing reported on Twitter, and Adri Perez, a policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas, told DFPS commissioners that one mom reported that her child has begun self-harming because they are afraid CPS will take them away from their family.

This month, Judge Meachum granted a temporary restraining order to the plaintiffs, but she stopped short of blocking investigations statewide. In her ruling Friday, Meachum said the governor’s order “changed the status quo” for Texas families with transgender children. His order had the effect of creating a new law or agency rule without following the democratic process, a move Meachum said violated separation of powers. Meachum also disagreed with Corbello’s argument that the plaintiffs do not face imminent harm.

“For example, Jane Doe has already been placed on administrative leave at work and is at risk of losing her job, her livelihood and her means of caring for her family,” Meachum said.

Meachum said a trial will be held July 11 to hear the case on its merits.

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