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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott effectively silenced trans kids' most essential ally

Texas parents of trans kids are now afraid to defend their families under Abbott’s new order.
Image: Demonstrators gather at the Texas State Capitol to protest legislation limiting the rights of transgender people in Austin in 2021.
Demonstrators gather at the Texas State Capitol to protest legislation limiting the rights of transgender people in Austin in 2021.Eric Gay / AP file

The Texas Legislature meets every other year and since 2016, conservative lawmakers in the state have used the opportunity to introduce dozens of anti-trans bills, from North Carolina-style bathroom bills to proposed bans on gender-affirming care for trans teenagers. All except a ban on trans girl athletes in girls sports have failed to pass.

Despite the common media narrative, the greatest threat to free speech in the internet age isn’t random people on Twitter. It’s conservative politicians like Abbott.

Key to each of those defeats has been the relentless advocacy of parents of transgender children. Their efforts have been especially important since most of the legislative attacks have directly targeted trans children, an age demographic not yet able to vote.

But a few weeks ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Department of Family and Child Protective Services (DFPS) to treat gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers as child abuse. The governor and his fellow Republican, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have continuously pushed lies about the issue, insinuating that parents are having genital surgery performed on their children (something that has never been provided by a Texas surgeon) in order to drive radicalization of his voter base.

Following a lawsuit by a Texas parent with a trans child, a state court issued an injunction to block the order Friday evening, though Paxton tweeted that DFPS would ignore the court order while the case is appealed.

The issues of free speech and so-called cancel culture have been a near obsession for the modern-day mainstream media. It feels like we read a new essay on cancel culture every other week from some writer who feels afraid to say certain things. According to the journalist Parker Molloy, The New York Times has published 70 pieces in the last year about cancel culture. But despite the common media narrative, the greatest threat to free speech in the internet age isn’t random people on Twitter. It’s conservative politicians like Abbott.

Abbott’s directive has effectively silenced parents of trans kids, who are experiencing a different type of fear of speaking out, desperately afraid that the state is going to come in and take away their children if they speak up. At a Friday DFPS public hearing in Austin, hundreds of people showed up to speak out against the governor’s directive. Notably absent from the crowd were the usually vocal parents of trans kids.

Instead, letters written by anonymous parents against the new policy were read by family friends and other close community members. Some parents and families with trans kids did attend a concurrent rally in front of the governor’s mansion Friday, where far-right trolls from Infowars attempted to infiltrate the rally and catch them on film, which risked exposing those parents in reports to DFPS.

I’ve recently spoken with a half-dozen parents from Texas with trans kids and none of them want to be identified publicly for fear of getting targeted by state investigators.

The consensus is that speaking out now in Texas is forbidden if you have a trans kid. Testifying in the Statehouse could mean a legislator, legislative staff member, reporter or even a member of the general public could file a report to DFPS.

The first amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights states that no law shall be established that abridges freedom of speech and the right of the people to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” But if petitioning the government means ending up under investigation by the government, that represents a grave First Amendment threat.

And that threat has spread outside of Texas as more and more states take steps to advance bills that would ban gender-affirming care for adolescents. In Florida, the conservative state Legislature passed a bill banning discussion of LGBTQ people in schools, another violation of free speech and expression.

Parents across the country are becoming more and more afraid to publicly advocate for their children’s lives for fear of some new law that would rip their lives and families apart. For years, anti-trans advocates have called for “reasonable debate” on trans issues and for the most part, we’ve had it. Trans people and their allies have had to counter all of the made-up idiocy that opponents have thrown at us for years now.

But the right wing and its allegedly radical feminist allies have finally showed themselves to be who we thought they were all along: aggressive authoritarians willing to rip families apart while tearing up the Constitution along the way.