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December 13th, 2022:

Gender affirming care is happening in Dallas

Some good news that I had not been fully aware of.

The Dallas doctor who ran the state’s most prominent medical program for transgender youth says she has seen dozens of new patients since crucial court wins this summer and fall.

Dr. Ximena Lopez has seen 72 additional patients since May, when a Dallas judge allowed her to resume treating transgender youth newly seeking care at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. In September, Lopez celebrated another victory when the Dallas appeals court ruled the state also could not step in to halt these treatments.

The mandate in that appeal was issued Dec. 5, finalizing the decision.

Brent Walker, Lopez’s lawyer, said the number of new patients interested in gender-affirming care shows his client’s treatments are needed. He criticized the state of Texas, represented by the Office of Attorney General Ken Paxton, for trying to intervene.

“The only reason the Attorney General was trying to get into this case was for the sake of his personal politics, not because of his constitutional duties and certainly not because he has concerns about these children and parents, who need the kind of care Dr. Lopez and the others provide,” Walker told The Dallas Morning News in a statement.

Representatives with Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The rulings mean transgender adolescents in North Texas will have access to treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy until the case goes to trial as lawyers and politicians across the state continue to fight over the legality and efficacy of gender-affirming care.


Lopez, a pediatric endocrinologist who ran the program, sued Children’s over the Genecis decisions in May.

That month, Judge Melissa Bellan granted Lopez an injunction that allowed her to temporarily resume admitting new patients seeking medical treatments. Children’s agreed to the injunction, which will last at least until a trial is slated to start in April 2023. The decision was a huge win for Lopez, who immediately began to take appointments.

Objecting to the resumption in care, Paxton sought to intervene in the case on the grounds that his office believes these treatments can constitute child abuse.

In June, Bellan ruled against Paxton, who quickly appealed her decision.

On Sept. 23, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas agreed with Bellan that the state cannot intervene. The three-judge panel – two Democrats and one Republican – that issued the ruling did not elaborate on its reasoning.

See here, here, and here for some background; there’s more at that first link to go farther back, when both Children’s Medical Center and UT Southwestern both ceased offering these services in response to pressure from Greg Abbott. The last update I had was about Paxton’s appeal to the Fifth Court; I had not seen that there had been a ruling against him. This is a great victory but likely to be a temporary one. Even if Dr. Lopez prevails in the trial, you can be sure that the Lege will have a bill to send to Abbott to specifically outlaw what she’s doing. This fight is going to be bigger and longer and harder than this court case. But at least in the meantime, kids who need this help can get it.

Recruitment of next summer’s lifeguards is already underway.

Better luck this time, we hope.

The city has begun recruiting lifeguards for next summer following a significant staffing shortage that led to the closure of two-thirds of Houston’s public pools this past season.

The Parks and Recreation Department, which operates Houston’s 37 aquatic centers, usually begins its recruiting campaign in November, reaching out to high school and college students who make up the majority of its summertime employees, according to Leroy Maura, the city’s senior superintendent over aquatics.

In the past two years, however, staff were unable to go to most schools and colleges due to COVID-19 restrictions on visitors, Maura said.

The city’s public pool system requires 188 lifeguards to operate at full capacity, but only 60 were on staff this past summer. As a result, 25 pools were closed, with the rest opening only three days a week on a rotating basis. On a given day, swimmers could go to only one of six operating aquatic centers.

This is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that department employees are able to carry out in-person recruitment events. So far, city recruiters have visited 10 local high schools and signed up more than 130 students as prospective hires.

“We would go on campus and set up a table there,” Maura said. “My staff would be carrying information about the job, some pictures and the uniform to just kind of give them an idea of what it’s going to be like to work as a lifeguard.”

Based on past experience, the department needs at least 1,000 initial prospects to eventually hire about 180 lifeguards, Maura said.


The city raised the pay for pool staff in May in hopes of attracting more applicants, from $13.66 to $16 per hour for lifeguards; to $18 for head lifeguards; and $20 per hour for aquatic center supervisors.

Anyone with swimming skills who will be over the age of 16 by May 2023 can call the Parks and Recreation Department at 832-395-7129 or email the team at [email protected] to apply.

See here for some background. I would not have guessed that recruitment for this normally starts in November, but given the numbers involved I understand. With the Parks and Rec department able to do more in person events in the schools now, as well as the increased pay, hopefully the problems from last year will be history. In the meantime, if you’ve got or know a teenager who would qualify and might be interested, let them know about this.

Santa Claus is back

So, you know, you better watch out, and all that.

Some Santas who stayed home the past two years out of concern for their health have returned, but performers have pressing issues, including inflation, on their minds. Many are older, on fixed incomes and travel long distances to don the red suit. They spend hundreds on their costumes and other accoutrements.

Santa booker has logged a 30% increase in demand this Christmas season over last year, after losing about 15% of its performers to retirement or death during the pandemic, said founder and head elf Mitch Allen.

He has a Santa database of several thousand with gigs at the Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York, various Marriott properties and other venues around the U.S. Most of Allen’s clients have moved back to kids on laps and aren’t considering covid-19 in a major way, he said, but Santa can choose to mask up.

Another large Santa agency, Cherry Hill Programs, is back up to pre-pandemic booking numbers for their 1,400 or so Santas working at more than 600 malls and other spots this year, said spokesperson Chris Landtroop.

“I can’t even explain how excited we are to see everyone’s smiles at all locations this season without anything covering up those beautiful faces,” she said.

Cherry Hill Santas are also free to wear masks, Landtroop said.


Allen and other agencies are juggling more requests for inclusive Santas, such as Black, deaf and Spanish-speaking performers. Allen also has a female Santa on speed dial.

“I haven’t been busted yet by the kids and, with one exception, by the parents, either,” said 48-year-old Melissa Rickard, who stepped into the role in her early 20s when the Santa hired by her father’s lodge fell ill.

“To have a child not be able to tell I’m a woman in one sense is the ultimate compliment because it means I’m doing Santa justice. It cracks my husband up,” added Rickard, who lives outside Little Rock. “I know there are more of us out there.”

By mid-November, Rickard had more than 100 gigs lined up, through HireSanta and other means.

“A lot of it is word-of-mouth,” she said. “It’s ‘Hey, have you seen the female Santa?'”

Rickard charges roughly $175 an hour as Santa, depending on the job, and donates all but her fuel money to charity. And her beard? Yak hair.

Eric Elliott’s carefully tended white beard is the real deal. He and his Mrs. Claus, wife Moeisha Elliott, went pro this year after first taking on the roles as volunteers in 2007. Both are retired military.

They spent weeks in formal Claus training. Among the skills they picked up were American Sign Language and other ways to accommodate people with disabilities. Their work has included trips into disaster zones with the Texas-based nonprofit Lone Star Santas to lend a little cheer.

The Elliotts, who are Black, say breaking into the top tier of Santas as first-time pros and Clauses of color hasn’t been easy. For some people, Eric said, “We understand that we’re not the Santa for you.”

Hope this is a better year for the Santa community. I’ve noted the Lone Star Santas and another Texas-based Santa employment agency before. These folks don’t make a lot of money doing this but they do have fun. That goes a long way.