In Texas, a 16-year-old trans boy was admitted to a psychiatric center after attempting suicide, on the same day that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a directive that stipulated that providing certain gender-affirming care treatments to minors was child abuse.
Once it was discovered that the boy had been receiving hormone therapy, his parents were reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), per the requirements of Abbott's order.
It appears that conservatives are finally ready to use their government power to directly persecute LGBTQ people and their allies.
The story is detailed in a lawsuit being brought against Abbott and Texas DFPS. It shows how weaponizing government child protective services is undergoing a transphobic renaissance in a number of states.
Last year, the big transgender debate was whether or not trans girls and women should be allowed to compete in women’s and girls’ sports. A quick scan of the most recent headlines shows the debate has lurched dramatically toward a more extreme angle. In 2022, Republican elected officials are seeking to criminalize LGBTQ people and their allies; transphobes are sending terroristic threats to towns and schools investigating transphobia; and white supremacists are storming Pride parades and drag events.
The escalation has been swift, brutal, and scary for America’s queer people, especially the trans people at the center of this so-called debate.
One of the centers of this reactionary movement against LGBTQ people is Florida, where Republican governor and apparent presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis recently took a series of steps to severely curtail freedoms for LGBTQ citizens in his state. In early June, he ordered Florida’s health department to state that transition care for trans teens should not be provided and that the state’s Medicaid program cut off funding for transition care for trans adults. His action mirrored other state-level attacks on transition care for trans youth and also opened a new campaign against access to transition care by lawful adult trans citizens of his state who happen to be on Medicaid.
The DeSantis administration took another extremist step late last week, proposing to order the state’s Child Protective Services to investigate any parents who take their kids to drag events. DeSantis has particularly targeted "Drag Queen Story Hour,” a children's event run by an LGBTQ educational franchise that has been held in public libraries since 2015.
The conservative overreaction to the existence of drag queens is nothing new. In 2019, conservative commentator Sohrab Ahmari claimed that events like "Drag Queen Story Hour" were offensive and that the government should step in and shut them down. As Ahmari wrote in a First Things op-ed for the New York Post, religious conservatives should “fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good."
Conservative governors are seemingly leaning into the idea of threatening to rip kids out of the loving arms of supportive parents in order to enforce their idea of "correct" parenting.
That attitude was somewhat fringe on the right at the time, but the sentiment has only grown since then. On Thursday, the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens stated that parents who take their children to drag events designed for kids aren’t fit to be parents and deserve to have their children removed from their homes. Judging by DeSantis’ Child Protective Services order, it appears that conservatives are finally ready to use their governmental power to directly persecute LGBTQ people and their allies.
Just like the conservative aversion to drag culture, taking children away from one’s political or ideological enemies is historically a common tactic in politics. The Ottoman Empire would take kids of Christian nobles in the Balkans away from their families and bring them to serve in the emperor’s court in a practice called “devshirme.” Most of the time, this engendered loyalty in the child and helped quell regional revolts.
During and after the Spanish Revolution, fascist Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s government would steal the newborn babies of its leftist opposition. The parents were often told that the newborns died in childbirth, but in actuality they were put up for adoption by more politically loyal families. This policy was later extended to those living in poverty and others deemed undesirable by Franco’s fascists. Historians estimate that about 300,000 children were kidnapped by the Franco regime, and the practice only ended in 1987, 22 years after Franco’s death, when a new law was passed to reform hospital practice in this area.
A version of this was practiced in the U.S. started around the 1860s, when Native children were taken from their families and tribes and placed in government-run boarding schools designed to reprogram the children in order to wipe out Native culture.
The motivation in these historical cases is identical to that of modern-day American conservatives, who seek to stamp out what they believe is a harmful ideology and presence — the mere existence of trans people.
Conservative governors are seemingly leaning in to the idea of threatening to rip kids out of the loving arms of supportive parents in order to enforce their idea of "correct" parenting. Threatening to take away people’s kids is clearly a dramatic political overreach, especially from a party that has supposedly claimed the mantle of parental rights. But that doesn’t make the current Republican Party any less of a serious threat to LGBTQ people and their allies.
And as history has shown, these types of child purges are rarely contained to the original target. The threat to LGBTQ people should be enough to inspire action to protect trans kids and their families, but I can’t help but ask: Who’s next?