Texas bill could send parents to prison for providing gender-affirming care

The measure would redefine child abuse to include parents who consent to hormone therapy and puberty blockers for their transgender children.

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A wave of anti-transgender bills across the country would ban health care providers from offering gender-affirming care to minors. But a smaller number are targeting parents who support their transgender kids’ desire to transition, levying punishments that critics say could range from jail time to having their children taken away.

A bill heard in committee in the Texas Senate on Monday would redefine child abuse to include administering, supplying or consenting to provide puberty suppression drugs, hormone replacement therapy, or surgical or medical procedures to anyone under 18 “for the purpose of gender transitioning or gender reassignment.”

The measure would make such acts a felony, alongside physical and sexual abuse and sex trafficking, although it carves out an exception for surgical procedures for intersex children.

Identifying himself in his testimony as “a dad, a grandad and deacon in a Baptist church,” Republican state Sen. Charles Perry, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he bore no ill will toward transgender people, but he felt obligated to protect children “who have not reached the maturity to understand what is being proposed nor the impact on them in perpetuity.’ He referred to affirmative care as “not reversible” and “life transformational and life changing.”

“God gave us a season in life, and it’s to have innocence up to a certain point and then unfortunately we lose that innocence,” Perry said during the hearing. “When parents interject things that rob them of that innocence, and really robs them of a future, we have a problem.”

Parents who violate the proposed law could face two to 10 years in prison and have their child put in foster care, and be open to civil litigation, according to Brian Klosterboer, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. The child abuse measure “is part of a pattern of discrimination that Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and others have tried to use trans Texans as a punching bag,” he said.

Lawmakers in the state are also considering legislation targeting medical providers, as well as a trans sports ban and a religious exemption bill that could allow emergency room staff to refuse to treat LGBTQ patients.

Image: Speaking before the Senate Committee on State Affairs on Monday, Kai Shappley

Kai Shappley, a 10-year-old transgender girl from Austin, speaks before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on April 12, 2021.Texas Senate

Speaking before the Senate Committee on State Affairs on Monday, Kai Shappley, a 10-year-old transgender girl from Austin, said Texas legislators have been attacking her since she was in pre-K.

“I am in fourth grade now,” Kai said. “When it comes to bills that target trans youth, I immediately feel angry. It’s been very scary and overwhelming.”

Testimony supporting the bill included “a lot of lies about kids as young as 3 years old having surgery performed on them,” Klosterboer said.

“It’s just not true,” he added. “It’s misconstruing the medical standards of care. We already have broad child abuse laws — there’s no need to rewrite them.”

The next step is for the committee to vote on the bill, which would then go before the full state Senate.

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“They might have the votes to move it forward,” Klosterboer said, “since they recently voted the anti-trans sports bill, SB 29, out of committee despite a lot of testimony and opposition against it.”

A similar bill in New Hampshire, which would have subjected supportive parents to an investigation by child services, died in committee last week. In a statement, Chris Erchull, staff attorney with the New England-based LGBTQ legal advocacy group GLAD, called the measure “part of a harmful nationwide effort by anti-LGBTQ groups to create division and polarization by promoting laws that deny transgender people access to health care.”

In all, at least 17 states are considering legislation restricting anyone under 18 from accessing transition-related care, according to the ACLU.

Last week, lawmakers in Arkansas enacted the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, or SAFE Act, the first ban to become law, by overriding a veto by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Health care providers who offer such care could lose their license to practice in the state and face civil litigation.

Hutchinson, who recently signed legislation banning transgender girls from competing on school sports teams, called the measure “overbroad” and a “vast government overreach.”

The ACLU has already indicated it plans to challenge the SAFE Act, which will take effect at the earliest in late July.

Research indicates that gender-affirming medical care can reduce depression and suicidal ideation among trans youth, according to The Trevor Project a nonprofit that provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ youth.

Numerous leading national medical associations have come out against transgender medical bans, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends trans and gender-diverse youth have access to “comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space,” according to a statement from AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers.

“These bills interfere in the physician-patient-family relationship and would cause undue harm,” she said.