This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
A 16-year-old transgender boy in Texas attempted suicide after Texas officials encouraged state agencies to report and investigate transgender children, a lawsuit alleges.
When he got treatment for his suicide attempt, the lawsuit says, his parents ended up being investigated for possible child abuse because he was receiving gender-affirming care.
The lawsuit, which was filed jointly by three families of transgender minors, alleges a direct connection between the minor’s attempted suicide to Texas governor Greg Abbott’s actions and the orders given to child protection workers. TODAY will not be using the minor’s name, though he is identified in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is one of several that have been filed in response to the Texas orders.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated in a February opinion that gender-affirming care procedures on minors could constitute child abuse. Gender-affirming care is supported by years of research and advocated for by leading medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.
Following Paxton's opinion, Texas governor Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Family Protective Services to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances” of “sex change procedures.”
Related story: What is gender-affirming care?
Abbot's order, referred to in the lawsuit as the "Abbott Letter," also told “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children” and “members of the general public” to report instances of children receiving gender-affirming care.
According to the lawsuit, child protective services investigators were told that they would be “required to investigate all reports of minors receiving prescribed treatments” for “gender dysphoria” and that those cases should be treated “differently from all other reports of abuse or neglect.”
"On February 22, the same day as Abbott’s Letter, (the 16-year-old boy) attempted to die by suicide .... (He) said that the political environment, including Abbott’s Letter and being misgendered at school, led him to take these actions," the lawsuit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, the minor was admitted to a local hospital and referred to an outpatient psychiatric facility. Staff learned that he had been prescribed hormone therapy for treatment of gender dysphoria, and according to the lawsuit, told him and his mother that the family "might be reported for ‘child abuse’ because of Abbott’s Letter and DFPS’s new rule." Less than a week after the minor was discharged from the facility, the lawsuit says a child welfare investigator arrived at the family's home.
"The investigator told (the minor’s mother) that she was only there because (the mother) was an ‘alleged perpetrator’ of child abuse as the parent of a transgender adolescent, who had been reported for allegedly providing her son with treatment for gender dysphoria," the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, the report was made by someone at the outpatient psychiatric facility and the investigation remains open.
The other two families in the lawsuit are also facing investigation by the state. One family said in the lawsuit that the investigation had “terrorized” them and “inflicted ongoing and irreparable harm,” including an impact on their son’s mental health. The other family, who has been under investigation for over three months, said in the lawsuit that the investigation has caused a “significant amount of stress, anxiety, and fear” for the family, including a “constant fear” that their children will be “taken away from them.”
Omar Gonzales-Pagan, counsel at Lambda Legal, who is representing the families in conjunction with PFLAG, told TODAY Parents that the goal of the lawsuit is to protect the families named, as well as extend those protections to other PFLAG member families. Both Lambda Legal and PFLAG advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
"At the end of the day, these type of laws and policies and regulations are not just unlawful. They're truly heinous. They keep saying this is about protecting kids, but then we see what they're doing is actually harming kids and their families," Gonzales-Pagan told TODAY.
The lawsuit is suing both Abbott and DFPS commissioner Jamie Masters in their official capacities, as well as DFPS as a whole. A representative for DFPS told TODAY that the office does "not comment on specific investigations," and noted that the matter is "already in litigation."
Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Texas legislation comes amid a rising wave in anti-trans legislation and bias in the United States. Seventeen states ban transgender students from playing on teams that match their gender identity, and in Ohio, a bill passed by the state House says that a child sports participant whose gender identity is questioned would be subject to an internal and external genital examination. Other states have also tried to ban gender-affirming care.
Gonzales-Pagan told TODAY that Lambda Legal, PFLAG and similar organizations are committed to fighting for equal rights for transgender people.
"I am both disheartened and dismayed about what is happening. But we’re all resolute in making sure that our youth are seen and protected," Gonzales-Pagan said. "We will continue to wage whatever legal battles we have to as well as all of the community education that we need to do to make sure that people understand trans youth are who they say they are ... and that they deserve the same dignity, equality and respect as every other young person in our country."