A family of activists recently interviewed by TODAY is one of several families with transgender children facing investigation by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services after the state's governor issued a directive involving minors receiving gender-affirming care.
Gov. Greg Abbott sent the directive, which is not a law, to the Department of Family and Protective Services in February. It states that teachers and other mandated reporters must report children whom they believe to be receiving gender-affirming care. The directive also says that any report must be investigated, regardless of who makes it.
The same week the directive was unveiled, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion that said allowing children to receive care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery is "child abuse."
The opinion ignores guidance from all relevant major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, which all say that gender-affirming care is medically necessary and backed by decades of research.
Related: What is gender-affirming care?
In a press release shared on March 8, activist and mom Amber Briggle announced that she and her family were under investigation because of the new policy, calling it a "statewide dragnet" that started just hours after the opinion was issued.
"We need you to imagine how it feels to have done nothing wrong, and still get that phone call from Child Protective Services (CPS). When we were notified of the allegations, it was as if the wind had been knocked out of us," Briggle wrote. "We wanted to scream and cry, but we had no air. The room was spinning. Raising a transgender child in Texas has been one long political emergency. It always seemed like this day would come. Now it has arrived."
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services did not confirm whether the Briggles were under investigation, saying that "information about specific investigations is confidential by law."
The department spokesperson did tell TODAY that there are nine investigations open as a result of the opinion.
Ian Pittman, a founding partner of Austin family law firm Jorgeson Pittman LLP and an attorney for the Briggles, told TODAY that the family went under investigation on Feb. 24, just a day after the opinion was issued.
"Someone, somewhere, whether it was in Texas or somewhere else, somebody contacted the department and said the Briggles have a transgender child," Pittman said. "That was the basis. There was no other allegation that anything was wrong with this family. ... Just the fact that they're publicly known because the Briggles have been very vocal advocates."
Legal battles are under way
Pittman said that the Briggles aren't the only family facing investigation, citing his own caseload and conversations with other attorneys.
"It's not just a handful, and it's not just in one area of the state," said Pittman, who noted that while the attorneys he has spoken to tend to be from major metropolitan areas like Austin, Houston and Dallas, people are coming to them from all over Texas. "It is not something that is limited to one rogue investigator for one region of the state."
The investigations have already been condemned by the White House and the subject of a legal battle: On March 11, a Texas judge heard arguments on whether to block the investigations. Last week, the judge made the decision to block one specific investigation into the family of a 16-year-old teenager. Texas has already filed an appeal against the judge's decision.
Pittman said that the Briggle investigation is still in its early stages: A home visit was conducted on Feb. 28, and Pittman said it typically takes about 30 days to close an investigation.
In February, Briggle told TODAY that she was worried about the legislation, but "knew (her) rights" as a parent. In her press release, though, she said everything changed since she and her family were placed under investigation. Pittman added that Briggle has had physical symptoms of stress, including reduced appetite and hair loss.
"(That night) we tucked (our children) into bed, relishing the chance to be close to them," Briggle wrote. "Neither of us slept that night, our bodies aching from the stress. How could we sleep, knowing that the state of Texas was trying to break our family apart? All of us were under the same roof that night. Normally, we take that for granted. No more."
'Discrimination is not big enough of a word'
L., a parent of two in Texas, said that the general atmosphere has put immense stress on her family. She told TODAY that she is not facing investigation at this time.
"I feel personally like I'm kind of in fight or flight mode constantly," said L., who did not want to reveal her full name to protect her family. "I can't like relax my shoulders and we're not sleeping well. I'm not eating very much ... I'm personally really, really struggling. I know that so many parents out (who) are just all very hyper vigilant right now."
R., another parent of a transgender child who asked to speak anonymously for safety reasons, said that living in Texas has become "a nightmare." Like Briggle, she said she experienced physical symptoms of stress, including severe hives on her face and neck. Her three children, she said, have also been impacted by the atmosphere in the state.
"We’ve had our kids not sleeping, having nightmares that ... my husband (or) I get taken away, that they get taken away," said R, who also is not currently under investigation. "It's horrifying for our kids. ... Discrimination is not big enough of a word. They are straight-up terrorizing families because they can because there is a knowledge gap among the general public that doesn’t understand what it means to be a transgender kid or what it means to raise a transgender kid."
L. agreed with Pittman's statement that it feels like families who are active are being targeted with investigations — but, she said, it's hard to be the parent of an LGBTQ+ child in Texas and not be an activist.
"There's no more sitting by and being silent, and the really scary piece about that is that is that in order to keep our kids safe, we have to put ourselves at risk by outing ourselves," L. said. "But there are people in this state who will not sit down with us and talk to us. They don't want to know us. And they're the ones who are going to be filing reports against us."