President Joe Biden put Texas officials “on notice” in a strongly worded statement Wednesday, calling recent investigations into the families of transgender youths “discriminatory actions” that “put children’s lives at risk.”
The statement, which was released alongside a list of actions that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would take to protect trans youths and their families in Texas, was the first time Biden directly addressed a recent directive from Gov. Greg Abbott that calls on the general public and “licensed professionals” to report the parents of trans minors if it appears the children are receiving gender-affirming medical care.
Related: Texas families fear governor’s call to ‘report,’ ‘investigate’ parents of trans kids
The directive also ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the state’s child protective services agency, to investigate such claims.
Civil rights groups intervened, filing a lawsuit Tuesday after the department opened an investigation last week into one of its own employees who has a transgender child. On Wednesday evening, hours before Biden’s statement, a judge temporarily blocked the state’s investigation into that family, but other similar investigations were unaffected.
Abbott has not returned a request for comment regarding the lawsuit or Biden’s statement, and the Department of Family and Protective Services declined to comment.
In his statement, Biden called Abbott’s directive “government overreach at its worst.” He said that his administration is putting “the state of Texas on notice that their discriminatory actions” risk children’s lives.
“These announcements make clear that rather than weaponizing child protective services against loving families, child welfare agencies should instead expand access to gender-affirming care for transgender children,” he said.
He added that children, their parents and their doctors should “have the freedom to make the medical decisions that are best for each young person — without politicians getting the way.”
“Transgender children bring fulfillment to their parents, joy to their friends, and are made in the image of God,” he said. “Affirming a transgender child’s identity is one of the best things a parent, teacher, or doctor can do to help keep children from harm, and parents who love and affirm their children should be applauded and supported, not threatened, investigated, or stigmatized.”
In a separate statement Wednesday, U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra called the Texas government’s actions “discriminatory and unconscionable.” He urged any individual or family who is targeted by a child welfare investigation due to the governor’s directive to contact the Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, which enforces civil rights laws that protect people from health care discrimination.
“HHS will take immediate action if needed,” he said. “I know that many youth and their supportive families are feeling scared and isolated because of these attacks. HHS is closely monitoring the situation in Texas, and will use every tool at our disposal to keep Texans safe.”
Becerra’s announcement revealed that the department released guidance to state child welfare agencies that “makes it clear that states should use their child welfare systems to advance safety and support for LGBTQI+ youth, which importantly can include access to gender affirming care” and guidance on patient privacy, which states that, despite the governor’s order, “health care providers are not required to disclose private patient information related to gender affirming care.” His announcement also outlined that denying health care based on gender identity and restricting medical professionals from providing such care due to gender identity are both illegal.
The Biden administration’s announcement has brought welcome relief for the parents of transgender children in Texas, who said the governor’s directive caused fear and anxiety for their families.
Related: Texas has ‘initiated investigations’ into trans kids’ families, lawsuit says
Some of them had also been awaiting action from Biden, who spoke directly to “younger transgender Americans” during his State of the Union address Tuesday night: “I will always have your back as your president,” he said.
After Biden’s address, Austin resident Linzy Foster, who has an 8-year-old trans daughter, said the president’s remarks had “no teeth” and that families in Texas “need strong, decisive, bold action.”
Foster said Thursday that the administration’s actions show that his statements in support of trans youths are “no longer lip service, but that he is walking the walk.”
“Knowing that the state of Texas may still come after my family, but that I can now contact the Office of Civil Rights to report it and they will assist and ‘take immediate action,’ allowed me to actually get some sleep last night,” she said.
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This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.