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‘A lot of hope’: Judge’s ruling halts investigations into parents of trans children

A temporary injunction has stopped investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming care, but a tweet from the state's attorney general caused confusion.
/ Source: TODAY

One mom said she was able to sleep for the first time in weeks. Another planned a movie night with her three kids and hoped to enjoy a night "without crying."

On Friday, parents in Texas breathed a sigh of relief after a temporary injunction paused investigations into parents of transgender kids in the state. But hours later, a social media message posted by state attorney general Ken Paxton quickly brought those parents back to a state of intense stress and fear.

The injunction, issued Friday night, came three weeks after Governor Greg Abbott sent a non-binding directive to the Department of Family and Protective Services. The directive stated that any reports of children receiving gender-affirming care must be investigated, regardless of who makes the report. The injunction also follows an opinion from Paxton, who said providing gender-affirming care such as hormone therapy or puberty blockers to children was "child abuse."

Related: What is gender-affirming care? Admiral Rachel Levine explains

In the weeks after the directive was issued, nine families were placed under investigation, DFPS told TODAY. One family, represented by Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, sued. In that case, Meachum issued a restraining order preventing DFPS from investigating in a court order on Mar. 4. The State of Texas appealed the judge's decision, but an appellate court decided with the family, who has been kept anonymous in court proceedings.

In her order declaring a temporary injunction, Judge Amy Clark Meachum said that Abbott's directive was "beyond the scope of his authority, and unconstitutional." The directive applies statewide and has stopped all nine investigations until a trial, scheduled for July 2022.

Late Friday evening, about six hours after the injunction was filed, Paxton shared on social media that he had filed an appeal. Paxton continues to refer to gender-affirming care as "child abuse," ignoring guidance from all relevant major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association.

In a follow-up tweet, Paxton said that the order was “frozen,” allowing investigations to proceed. At the time of publication, Paxton had not filed a stay of injunction or any other legal mechanism that would allow him to restart investigations.

Ian Pittman, an attorney representing a family that was placed under investigation for allegedly providing gender-affirming care to their transgender teenager, said that he has "not received any indication" that DFPS believes it can or has been directed to "disregard the temporary injunction."

"Unless and until a court (either the trial court or a court of appeals) issues an order staying enforcement of the temporary injunction, it is presumed valid and enforceable," he said in an email on Saturday morning.

Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal who specializes in constitutional law, told TODAY that like in the individual case last week, the ACLU and Lambda Legal expect to win the appeal.

"The appeal that's been filed is baseless. What the (attorney general) is saying is not correct, and the trial court got it right," Skeen said.

For now, she said, investigations should remain paused. Skeen urged any parents of transgender children to contact the ACLU of Texas or Lambda Legal if they are approached by DFPS.

Related: Texas families fear governor’s call to ‘report,’ ‘investigate’ parents of trans kids

'What the heck does this mean?'

L, a mother of two in Texas who spoke to TODAY on Friday morning before the injunction was filed and Saturday morning after seeing news of Paxton's response, said that she's feeling better over the weekend, but still worries about the future.

On Friday, she said she hadn't been sleeping or eating, and worried about her children, one of whom is transgender, and their safety. On Saturday, she said she was starting to "feel a lot of hope" but was concerned about Paxton's statements.

"We got a whole like six hour break from this nonsense," L said, speaking to TODAY anonymously to protect herself and her family. "My friend has a case open against her that she was thinking, come Monday, would be closed because that's what was stated yesterday, but I don't know that now. It's just like, what the heck does this mean?"

R, a mom of three who also requested anonymity for her family's safety, said on Friday evening that the injunction meant she could relax for the first time in weeks, even as she expected an appeal to come. By Saturday morning, though, she said she no longer felt that way.

"I'm not an attorney and have no idea what all of this means," said R, who said that she was waiting to hear from a lawyer she had retained in case she was investigated by DFPS. "(It's) immensely stressful."

L agreed that she wished she "had a law degree" to better interpret Paxton's statements. Until then, she's using social media to stay in touch with a network of other impacted parents and legal experts.

"I feel like I can't really relax, like I have to stay plugged into Twitter trying to pay attention to what's happening, because if I look away, I'm not going to know if something changes," L said.

Even despite the current fears and setbacks, she said she still has some hope. Skeen said that Lambda Legal and the ACLU are prepared to take the legal fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but hope it won't last that long.

"It's definitely going to be this continued feeling of uncertainty, but I feel hope," L said. "A lot of hope."