By Terrance Turner
Feb. 23, 2022
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services yesterday, directing the agency to conduct “prompt and thorough investigation” of what he called “gender-transitioning procedures” for transgender youth. The move comes just a day after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a written statement defining gender-affirming health care as “child abuse”.
“As OAG Opinion No. KP-0401 makes clear, it is already against the law to subject Texas children to a wide variety of elective procedures for gender-transitioning, including reassignment surgeries that can cause sterilization, mastectomies, removals of otherwise healthy body parts, and administration of puberty-blocking drugs or supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen,” Abbott wrote.
ABC’s San Antonio affiliate KSAT, along with the Texas Tribune, noted that puberty blockers are a reversible type of medical treatment that delays puberty. They can give trans teens more time to decide what gender-related care and procedures they will elect to have in adulthood. But they also help avert health problems that come from early-onset puberty. The American Psychological Assocation says that such early-onset changes can cause depression, anxiety, substance use and early sexual behavior.
Areana Quiñones, executive director for the Texas nonprofit Doctors For Change, defined gender-affirming care as judgment-free, individualized care oriented toward understanding and appreciating a person’s gender. “Hormone blockers are used for a lot of different medical purposes, not just for transgender youth,” Quiñones said. “So I think that it’s a slippery slope, when you’re saying you’re going to prohibit physicians from using this as a potential treatment for something.”
Still, Abbott urged medical professionals to report what he termed “abusive” procedures: “Texas law imposes reporting requirements upon all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse, including doctors, nurses, and teachers, and provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse.” Abbott wrote. He added, “There are similar reporting requirements and criminal penalties for members of the general public.” But punishments extend to parents of transgender kids, too: “Texas law also imposes a duty of DFPS to investigate the parents of a child who is subjected to these abusive gender-transitioning procedures,” Abbott continued.
Medical experts say that transgender children rarely (if ever) have surgeries like hysterectomies, mastectomies or orchiectomies (all of which can also be used to treat various forms of cancer). But Abbott cited them in an August letter to the Texas DPS, and Patrick did the same in his statement on Monday. Republican-sponsored bills similar to Abbott’s order were considered by the Texas Legislature last year, but did not pass. State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, declared that “the 1st bill I file in the 87th [legislative session] will add ‘Transitioning of a Minor’ as Child Abuse.” State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, pledged to introduce a bill prohibiting the use of puberty blockers for children and lamented that “we missed our opportunity to do so in the 86th session.”
The Austin-American Statesman pointed out that The Texas Pediatric Society, Texas Medical Association and Texas Academy of Family Physicians opposed last year’s legislative efforts to limit gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers. The American Medical Association also opposed that legislation. CEO James L. Madera wrote a letter to Mr. Bill McBride, Executive Director of the National Governors Association, decrying the law. Madera wrote, in part;
‘Empirical evidence has demonstrated that trans and non-binary gender identities are normal variations of human identity and expression. For gender diverse individuals, standards of care and accepted medically necessary services that affirm gender or treat gender dysphoria may include mental health counseling, non-medical social transition, gender-affirming hormone therapy, and/or gender-affirming surgeries.”
“Clinical guidelines established by professional medical organizations for the care of minors promote these supportive interventions based on the current evidence and that enable young people to explore and live the gender that they choose,” Madera wrote. ‘Every major medical association in the United States recognizes the medical necessity of transition-related care for improving the physical and mental health of transgender people.”
“In addition, evidence has demonstrated that forgoing gender-affirming care can have tragic consequences. Transgender individuals are up to three times more likely than the general population to report or be diagnosed with mental health disorders, with as many as 41.5 percent reporting at least one diagnosis of a mental health or substance use disorder. The increased prevalence of these mental health conditions is widely thought to be a consequence of minority stress, the chronic stress from coping with societal stigma, and discrimination because of one’s gender identity and expression. Because of this stress, transgender minors also face a significantly heightened risk of suicide.”
“Madera cited 2018 studies in the Journal of Sexual Medicine and the Journal of Primary Prevention, along with two other medical studies in different publications in 2005 and 2010: “Studies suggest that improved body satisfaction and self-esteem following the receipt of gender-affirming care is protective against poorer mental health and supports healthy relationships with parents and peers. Studies also demonstrate dramatic reductions in suicide attempts, as well as decreased rates of depression and anxiety.”
The reaction to Abbott’s decision was widespread and vociferous. Equality TX, a statewide organization that advocates for the LGBTQ community, saw the move as an attack. “Since the beginning of the 2021 legislative session, anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, including the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general have sought to lay the groundwork to turn Texans against their LGBTQ+ neighbors through an onslaught of harmful legislation, inflammatory rhetoric and discredited legal opinions,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, told the Washington Blade in a statement. “They have found it politically advantageous to spread lies about and villainize LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender people, grossly mischaracterizing our lives to paint us as scary caricatures that need to be feared, all in service of securing their re-elections.”
In a statement, the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) said Mr Paxton was using his position of power “to bully some of Texas’s most vulnerable children yet again.” The leader of TENT was even blunter: “I hope to see the day that trans people will not be used as political pawns, especially our youth,” wrote the group’s director, Emmett Schelling. “Simply put, we have some leadership in Texas that would undoubtedly rather see dead kids than trans kids.”
Even Vogue magazine weighed in: “It’s difficult to overstate just how deleterious an effect Texas’s new policy could have on the mental health and physical safety of trans youth. Moreover, empowering state agencies to investigate the parents of those youths is likely to have an outsized impact on families of color (who are already disproportionately criminalized and overrepresented in an overtaxed child-welfare system). Yet the state—which has the second-biggest trans population in the U.S.—may serve as an example of how trans individuals will be targeted across the country if Greg Abbott’s GOP has its way.”
When asked about the White House’s reaction, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied: “There are efforts in some states — not just Texas, but also Florida and unfortunately others — designed to target and attack kids who need support the most: LGBTQIA+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves. This isn’t an isolated action, as is evidenced by multiple States pursuing this. We’re seeing Republican leaders taking action to determine what students can and cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be.”
In addition, Abbott is also facing scrutiny over his handling of last year’s winter storm in Texas, in which temperatures dropped below freezing for days and hundreds were killed. Bill Magness, former CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, testified in court Wednesday that when he ordered power prices to stay at the maximum price cap for days on end during last year’s frigid winter storm and blackout — running up billions of dollars in bills for power companies — he was following the direction of Governor Greg Abbott.
At a joint public hearing in Austin today, Magness said that former Public Utility Commission Chairman DeAnn Walker told him Abbott wanted them to do whatever was necessary to prevent rolling blackouts that left 4 million Texans without power.
“She told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume,” Magness said Wednesday. “We needed to do what we needed to do to make it happen.”
Power prices were kept at the max of $9000 per megawatt-hour, more than 150 times the normal price, according to the Houston Chronicle. That decision is now at the center of a bankruptcy trial waged by electricity co-op Brazos Electric. They contend that the move was made recklessly and resulted in a $1.9 billion power bill from ERCOT that forced them into bankruptcy.
Last year the governor’s spokesman Mark Miner said the governor was not “involved in any way” in the decision to keep prices at the maximum of $9,000 per megawatt hour – more than 150 times normal prices. He described a decision to send an aide to ERCOT’s operations center in the middle of the crisis as based on the feeling the grid operator was spewing “disinformation.” But Magness — who was fired in March 2021 — directly contradicts that assertion, saying that Walker had come to him based on Abbott’s demand that blackouts end.
Magness was concerned, he said, about a system that was still not secure when plants began to come back online on Feb. 17. There was concern if power prices were allowed to return to normal market conditions, large power users might start coming back online and using crucial power reserves. He added that there were other concerns, explaining how water plants that had been relying on backup generation would have soon run out of fuel if rotating blackouts resumed.
ERCOT’s decision to maintain power prices at their cap until Feb. 19 resulted in electric companies in the state — including San Antonio’s CPS Energy — incurring an additional $16 billion in costs, the Chronicle reports, citing a report by the Texas Independent Market Monitor.