Targeting surgeries rarely used on kids, Gov. Greg Abbott asks state agency to determine if gender affirming care is child abuse

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offices in Austin on Nov. 14, 2019.

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Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services’ top official on Friday to determine whether some gender confirmation surgeries for transgender children are child abuse under existing state law.

Abbott vowed last month to take action to restrict transition-related medical care for transgender minors in Texas. The move Friday comes months after a bill that sought to define several types of gender affirming health care as child abuse was passed by Texas Senate before gaining little traction in the House.

But medical experts say gender affirming care for transgender children rarely, if ever, includes use of the surgeries — orchiectomies, hysterectomies and mastectomies — Abbott cited in his letter Friday to DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters. Most care for transgender children includes social transitioning and puberty blockers.

Experts also took issue with Abbott’s language in the letter, which repeatedly referred to gender confirmation surgery as “genital mutilation.”

Andrea Segovia, Transgender Education Network of Texas’ field and policy coordinator, said the move by Abbott is a continuation of Republican Texas leaders bullying marginalized children.

“It’s literally the harshest language possible, because he wants a reaction from his side,” she said. “And they can gain supporters in that of like, ‘Oh, that sounds awful. Yeah, we shouldn’t be doing that to our minors.’”

Equality Texas released a statement criticizing Abbott’s letter.

“This is nothing more than another political attempt to stigmatize transgender people, their loving families, and the healthcare providers who offer them lifesaving care,” CEO Ricardo Martinez said.

Abbott’s office has not responded for comment. Marissa Gonzales, a DFPS spokesperson, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune, “The Commissioner has received the Governor’s letter and we will begin work immediately.”

For years, Texas Republicans have introduced legislation targeting transgender people, with little success. In 2019, Attorney General Ken Paxton urged state agencies to investigate whether a mother supporting her 7-year-old child’s gender transition was committing “child abuse.”

Earlier this week, former state Sen. Don Huffines, who will challenge Abbott in next year’s Republican primary, criticized the governor for not doing enough to protect Texas children from “mutilation” while touting an endorsement from the father of the transgender child that garnered Paxton’s attention in 2019.

Texas doctors and advocates see Abbott’s letter as more of a political move than as having much of an impact on gender affirming care as it’s currently practiced in Texas.

“That just sounds like something to placate the base, but it doesn’t really do much of anything,” said Seth Kaplan, president of the Texas Pediatric Society.

Segovia agreed.

“This is not a cause for alarm,” she said. “Our organization does not want community or parents or anybody to think that this is a letter saying that medical sort of appointments and anything like that should stop.”

Disclosure: Equality Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribunes journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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