We need to talk about Texas. News of a recent lawsuit brought by a Texas family suggests that state authorities have heeded Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to investigate reported instances of elective procedures for gender transitioning among youth, which the governor has called a form of “child abuse.” 

In a letter dated Feb. 22, 2022, released after state legislation failed to pass that would have criminalized gender-affirming care in the state, Abbott directed the state’s commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the parents of any child “who is subjected to these abusive gender-transitioning procedures.” Those found in violation may face criminal charges.  

But here’s the thing: Gender-affirming care for trans youth is life-saving care. 

It is the direct opposite of child abuse. 

Transgender kids are especially vulnerable to mental health issues. In 2020, more than half of trans youth contemplated suicide, according to a survey from The Trevor Project

But research has shown that providing trans kids with the gender-affirming care they need can drastically improve their mental health. The Texas governor is operating under the guise of “protecting children,” but prohibiting kids and families from accessing that care could very well constitute a great deal of harm. 

A study published by the nonprofit in December 2021 found that young people under the age of 18 who received gender-affirming hormone therapy were associated with nearly 40% lower chances of recent depression and of a past-year suicide attempt.

Another study published in the journal Pediatrics found that people who seek out gender-affirming care later in life have higher rates of psychoactive medication use and mental health issues as compared to those who sought care when they were younger. 

This care can’t wait

This care is vital—and it can’t wait. And these state-led investigations are just a small part of a record number of legislature aimed at inhibiting the rights of transgender people across the country. 

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than 100 bills attacking the rights of transgender people have been introduced to state legislature since 2020.

We need to protect the mental health of transgender youth by allowing them and their families access to the care they desperately need. 

Anti-trans legislature is dangerous

The Texas trans youth order and others like it are purposefully designed to drive a wedge between transgender people and the community—between patient and provider and between student and teacher.

In his letter, Abbott embroils doctors, nurses, teachers and the general public into the fray by imposing reporting requirements, forcing them to call out any instances of gender-transitioning procedures. Failure to report could result in criminal penalties. 

For transgender kids to thrive, they need to be able to rely on a supportive community of adults. 

By creating a culture of fear and eroding trust between the patient and their pediatrician, policies like this leave trans youth without access to necessary healthcare—and subject to discrimination that directly affects their safety. And removing support from safe spaces like schools may also contribute to an increased risk of suicide in LGBTQ youth, reports The Trevor Project

Several large U.S. medical associations, including the The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), have spoken up in support of trans rights. 

“It is critically important for every child to have access to quality, comprehensive and evidence-based care—transgender and gender-diverse youth are no exception,” says AAP Immediate Past President Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, in a statement. “As pediatricians, we will continue to speak up and advocate for our patients. We also want transgender and gender-diverse youth to know that not only do we care for them, we care about them, we value them and we will do all we can to ensure they have access to the care they need and deserve.”

The White House has also condemned Abbott’s move. "Conservative officials in Texas and other states across the country should stop inserting themselves into health care decisions that create needless tension between pediatricians and their patients," Karine Jean-Pierre, deputy principal press secretary for the White House, told the Dallas Morning News. "No parent should face the agony of a politician standing in the way of accessing life-saving care for their child."