Some good news to end the week.
State District Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled Friday that providing gender-affirming care is not a reason for the state to investigate a family for child abuse, and halted all such investigations.
The statewide injunction will remain in effect until “this court, and potentially the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Texas” hear the case, Meachum said.
Meachum said there is a “substantial likelihood” that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal will prevail in getting Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive for such investigations permanently overturned, calling his actions “beyond the scope of his duty and unconstitutional.”
Since the directive, the state has opened nine investigations into families who provide this medical care to their children. The injunction stops the state from investigating anyone for child abuse based solely on the allegation that they provided gender-affirming medical treatment. It also stops anyone from being prosecuted for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care and lifts the mandatory reporting requirements laid out in the directive.
Meachum ruled that Abbott’s directive had the effect of a new law or agency rule “despite no new legislation, regulation or even stated agency policy,” which improperly encroached on the legislative arm of the government.
A DFPS supervisor who was called to testify at the Friday court hearing said that the child abuse investigations into families of transgender children are being held to a different standard than other cases.
Investigators can’t discuss cases with colleagues via text or email, and they are required to investigate the cases, even if there’s no evidence of abuse, said Randa Mulanax, an investigative supervisor with DFPS.
Mulanax has decided to resign as a result of this directive after six years with the agency.
“I’ve always felt that, at the end of the day, the department had children’s best interest at heart,” she said. “I no longer feel that way.”
Lawyers for the ACLU and Lambda argued in court Friday that Meachum should grant a statewide injunction on all of these investigations until the legitimacy of this directive can be argued in trial.
“The defendant’s directives and actions are traumatizing,” said ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer. He added that the actions are “killing the ability of transgender youth to continue to get necessary care, and forcing physicians and mandatory reporters … to decide between civil and criminal penalties … and doing what’s right for the health of their patients.”
A lawyer for the state argued that simply opening a child abuse investigation into a family is not necessarily evidence of harm to that family, and that it would be overreach for “the judicial branch to infringe on the executive branch’s ability to perform such a critical task as ensuring the welfare of the state’s children.”
Mulanax said employees have been told not to communicate with colleagues about these cases via email or text message, which she described as unusual and “unethical.”
She said investigators have been told they cannot mark these cases as “priority none,” a designation staff members use when they believe a report does not merit investigation, and must alert department leadership and the general counsel when they’re working on one of these cases.
See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a statement from the ACLU. The state’s argument that merely having CPS open a child abuse investigation into your family is no big deal is just mind-boggling. Like, even if it does eventually go nowhere and the investigators come away telling you that you’re actually doing a swell job as parents, as they told the Briggles, a lot of trauma and very likely lasting damage to your reputation has already happened. I suppose Paxton, who knows a thing or two about being investigated by a grand jury, would argue that that’s no big deal either, since you haven’t been arrested yet. I can name at least two people who would vigorously disagree with that.
The Chron adds a few details.
District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum, who ruled from the bench late Friday afternoon, said the plaintiffs would suffer “imminent and irreparable injury” if the directive were allowed to stay in place. Among those harms, she said, the mother, who is a DFPS employee, could lose her job; the family would face deprivation of their constitutional rights and the stigma of being subjects of a child abuse investigation; and the daughter would face the loss of necessary medical care.
So far, nine investigations have been opened against parents who are supporting their children’s medical care, DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins confirmed. The state and nation’s largest pediatric facility, Texas Children’s Hospital, has temporarily stopped prescribing gender-affirming hormone therapies, and Legacy Community Health has said it’s “analyzing available options.” Several months earlier another program in Dallas pulled its website and halted services to new patients.
“This vast overreach … establishes a new presumption of abuse by parents of transgender children who receive gender-affirming care, triggering investigations of families based solely on the provision of that care and prioritizing those investigations in an unprecedented way,” said Paul Castillo, Lambda Legal’s senior counsel, at the hearing Friday.
Also Friday, just down the street from the Austin courthouse, more than 100 advocates for LGBT Texans showed up at a public meeting to protest the policy. There were so many people that staff were still unfolding chairs as the meeting started, placing them all the way at the back of the room. Still others sat on the floor.
Dozens held pages of white printer paper in their hands, which contained what they described as statements written by parents of transgender youth who are too afraid of coming under investigation to speak publicly for themselves. The meeting was emotional and angry, and many speakers choked back tears.
“It’s so important that we look up with pride and confidence at the organization” that sets standards for safety for Texas children, said Marie Catrett, who said she has worked as a child care provider for 25 years. “And now I’m looking at this organization possibly being used as a political tool, again, against transgender children. … Your job is not to be political. Your job is to advocate for the safety of children based on facts, based on science, and not for political reasons.”
Outside, advocates held a rally calling for a public outcry against Abbott’s new directive.
Anne Lewis, a board member for Texas State Employees Union, said statements from rank-and-file staff indicate many think asking CPS workers to investigate these families “is baffling, hypocritical and disturbing.”
Lewis quoted one worker anonymously: “I am terrified for families with transgender children.” The worker said she had documented details about a family supporting their transgender teen and now is concerned those details will now be used against them.
Also at the rally was Sam Ames, from The Trevor Project, a LGBT suicide prevention group. He called Paxton’s guidance “a politically motivated opinion that is only going to pit the government against loving families, teachers against students, doctors against patients and neighbors against neighbors, which is language we should all find familiar and has never been on the right side of history.”
Seems Judge Meachum viewed that ridiculous state argument as I did. Of course, this has already been appealed:
BREAKING II — AG Ken Paxton has already filed a notice of appeal that will seek to overturn the injunction and allow gender-affirming care to be treated as child abuse in Texas.
— Chuck Lindell (@chucklindell) 6:09 PM – 11 March 2022
Here’s hoping the injunction will at least stay in place as the litigation proceeds. There’s a hearing on July 11 for a permanent injunction if the appellate process allows it to happen at that time.