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Texas Supreme Court partially blocks cases investigating Trans families

A district court previously determined the governor’s directives targeting families of trans youth were issued without proper authority

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Landon Richie leading a protest for Trans rights at the Texas State Capitol in 2019 (Blade file photo)

AUSTIN – The Texas Supreme Court Friday ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) can continue to investigate families in the state who provide medically necessary care for their Trans children, excluding the parties in the litigation that brought the matter forward in a lawsuit filed in March.

The DFPS investigation into the Travis County family of a transgender teen that sued the state earlier this year was blocked by a lower appellate court injunction. The high court did uphold the injunction into that case barring further action by DFPS. However, the court struck down a statewide injunction issued by the lower court Friday on procedural grounds, leaving open the state’s ability to have DFPS once again investigate other families that provide gender-affirming care.

The justices however, questioned why DFPS had acted in the first case.

In its decision, the court emphasized that neither Attorney General Paxton nor Governor Abbott has the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of medically necessary lifesaving health care for transgender youth as child abuse. But the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

The Texas Tribune noted:

“The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them,” Friday’s ruling reads. “DFPS’s press statement, however, suggests that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the Governor’s letter, the Attorney General’s Opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this Court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound.”

The ruling does note the myriad “informal mechanisms” through which elected officials can influence a state agency, but “ultimately, however, one department or another has the final say.”

DFPS employees have told The Texas Tribune that agency leadership has acknowledged that these investigations do not meet the current requirements for child abuse and have said policy would need to be generated to match the governor’s directives.

Trans activist Landon Richie who has been deeply involved in the efforts to mitigate the anti-trans actions by Texas lawmakers and has led protests against the transphobic actions by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Blade Friday;

“To be clear, the Texas Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters and DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse. While the decision means now only the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have protection, it reiterates that Attorney General Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s letter are not binding and not enforceable, meaning DFPS’s actions moving forward are at the discretion of Commissioner Masters only and not the state leadership’s directives. The Texas Supreme Court allowing for the district court to provide a temporary injunction is a good sign for people’s protection. 

It bears reminding families in Texas and around the country that today’s decision (and yesterday’s regarding gender-affirming care at UT Southwestern and Texas Children’s) reaffirms what we already know: opinions are only opinions and the people in power cannot abuse that power to abuse trans people. We know decisions can change at a moment’s notice and that this fight will take years, but to our families and communities under attack, please remain strong and take a moment to breathe. We’re in this together. “

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade: “This decision is a huge step forward for transgender kids and their families. The court made clear that the state child welfare authorities have no obligation to investigate these families and, rightly, expressed concern about why the Governor sought to interfere with parents’ decisions about their children’s medical care.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Texas, and Lambda Legal issued the following joint statement:

“Today’s decision is a win for our clients and the rule of law. The Texas Supreme Court made clear that the attorney general and governor do not have the authority to order DFPS to take any action against families that support their children by providing them with the highest standards of medical care. The court rejected the attorney general’s arguments that our lawsuit should be dismissed and affirmed that DFPS is not required to follow the governor’s directive or the attorney general’s non-binding opinion.

“Though the court limited its order to the Doe family and Dr. Mooney, it reaffirmed that Texas law has not changed and no mandatory reporter or DFPS employee is required to take any action based on the governor’s directive and attorney general opinion. By upholding the injunction, the court left in place the lower court’s decision that investigations based solely on the provision of medically necessary health care cause irreparable harm. It would be unconscionable for DFPS to continue these lawless investigations while this lawsuit continues, and we will not stop fighting the protect the safety and lives of transgender youth here in Texas.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton saw the high court’s ruling as a victory vowing to keep up efforts to go after the families and healthcare providers for the transgender children tweeting:

“The district court previously determined that the governor and DFPS’s directives targeting families of transgender youth were issued without proper authority, in violation of the Texas Administrative Procedure Act, the separation of powers requirements of the Texas Constitution, and the constitutional rights of transgender youth and their parents,” ACLU of Texas said in a statement.

Anyone who is affected by these orders can find legal, mental health, and other resources at txtranskids.org or the Lambda Legal help desk.

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Equality Texas launches video to highlight LGBTQ+ rights struggle

Trans kids have been the target of political attacks, and lawmakers have been abusing their authority to bully health care providers

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

AUSTIN – On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, Equality Texas announces the launch of a short animated video that highlights the struggle of Texas trans kids and their families.

For the past two years trans kids have been the target of political attacks, and lawmakers have been abusing their authority to bully health care providers from caring for their trans patients. Children’s health care decisions should be a collaboration between parents, their doctors, and the patients themselves.

This video illustrates the pain that parents and trans kids feel when politicians insert themselves into the doctor’s office.

Fear thrives on misinformation. Many Texans, including Texas politicians, don’t understand the lived experience of trans people. But they don’t need to. We all live in our own bodies 24/7, and we each understand our own healthcare needs better than anyone else.

Full Length English Version:
https://vimeo.com/710377667


Full Length Spanish Version:
https://vimeo.com/710424262


30 second PSA preview English version:
https://vimeo.com/710447381

30 second PSA preview Spanish version:
https://vimeo.com/710496797

Equality Texas is the largest statewide organization working to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration. 

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Texas

ExxonMobil plans to ban Pride & BLM flags at its Houston offices

The company’s actions comes as the battles in the cultural war over LGBTQ+ rights heats up in other places like Florida

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Photo Credit: Exxon Mobil Corporation, Irving, Texas

HOUSTON – Texas-based American multinational oil and gas corporation, ExxonMobil, had executed plans to ban display of what the petroleum industry giant referred to as ‘position flags,’ the ‘Rainbow Pride Flag’ and the Black Lives Matter flag, outside of company offices during the month of June, which is designated as LGBTQ+ Pride month.

The plans were set in a new flag protocol according to the policy first reported by Bloomberg News.

“The updated flag protocol is intended to clarify the use of the ExxonMobil branded company flag and not intended to diminish our commitment to diversity and support for employee resource groups,” Tracey Gunnlaugsson, ExxonMobil vice president of human resources, said in a statement. 

“We’re committed to keeping an open, honest, and inclusive workplace for all of our employees, and we’re saddened that any employee would think otherwise,” Gunnlaugsson added.

In response, members of ExxonMobil’s PRIDE employee resource group which numbers around 3,000, are refusing to represent the company at the city’s June 25 Pride celebration, according to an employee group email also seen by Bloomberg. ExxonMobil’s employee resource group has existed since 2008. The company’s worldwide workforce is about 63,000.

“Corporate leadership took exception to a rainbow flag being flown at our facilities” last year, Exxon’s Pride employee group in Houston said in an email Thursday, according to Bloomberg. “PRIDE was informed the justification was centered on the need for the corporation to maintain ‘neutrality.’”

“It is difficult to reconcile how ExxonMobil recognizes the value of promoting our corporation as supportive of the LGBTQ+ community externally (e.g. advertisements, Pride parades, social media posts) but now believes it inappropriate to visibly show support for our LGBTQ+ employees at the workplace,” the group said, according to Bloomberg. 

“These types of visible actions are even more impactful for many of our LGBTQ+ colleagues who aren’t out at work and may not feel comfortable participating in PRIDE events,” the group added.

The Houston Chronicle noted that ExxonMobil has made significant strides to improve diversity and extend employee benefits over the last decade, but some workers perceive the row over the rainbow flag as a major setback for LGBTQ employees and their allies.

The oil giant was slower than many corporations to provide equal coverage, but added gay marriage benefits in 2014, restored protective-employment language in 2015 and added transgender coverage in 2016. 

Still, the Chronicle says, some Exxon employees believe the company’s leadership should be taking a stronger position on LGBTQ rights. 

“It is difficult to reconcile how ExxonMobil recognizes the value of promoting our corporation as supportive of the LGBTQ+ community externally (e.g. advertisements, Pride parades, social media posts) but now believes it inappropriate to visibly show support for our LGBTQ+ employees at the workplace,” the workers’ group said in the email.

“Flying a Pride flag is one small way many corporations choose to visibly show their care, inclusion and support for LGBTQ+ employees,” the ExxonMobil LGBTQ+ group said. “These types of visible actions are even more impactful for many of our LGBTQ+ colleagues who aren’t out at work and may not feel comfortable participating in PRIDE events.” 

The company’s actions comes as the battles in the cultural war over LGBTQ+ rights heats up including the recent feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies and The Walt Disney Company over its opposition to Florida’s recently passed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.

 

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Texas Child Protective Service workers resigning over Governor’s order

“Things are already slipping through the cracks. … We will see investigations that get closed and children will die in Texas”

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Texas DFPS HDQTRS Austin (Julia Reihs/KUT via Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas)

AUSTIN – Nearly a dozen social workers with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have resigned over the order issued by Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott to investigate the families of trans adolescent and younger minors for child abuse by allowing those children to receive transitioning healthcare.

The Texas Court of Appeals for the state’s third circuit reinstated the temporary injunction Monday, as issued by the Travis County, Texas district court on March 11, 2022, which bars the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from investigations of parents and families of Transgender youth.

The directive, which Abbott issued to DFPS in February, calls for “prompt and thorough investigation[s] ” into parents of children who have received gender-affirming treatment, after state Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a legal opinion equating the treatment to “child abuse.”

In an investigative article published Monday, Texas Tribune journalist Eleanor Klibanoff reported that one of the workers resigning in the wake of the Abbott order is Morgan Davis, a transgender man.

According to the Tribune:

His supervisors in the Travis County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offered to reassign the case, but maybe, he thought, he was the right person for the job.

“If somebody was going to do it, I’m glad it was me,” Davis said.

He hoped it would be reassuring to the family to see a transgender man at the helm of the investigation. But the family’s lawyer didn’t see it that way.

“She said, ‘I know your intentions are good. But by walking in that door, as a representative for the state, you are saying in a sense that you condone this, that you agree with it,’” Davis said.

“It hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s true,” he said. “By me being there, for even a split second, a child could think they’ve done something wrong.”

Davis resigned shortly after. Since the directive went into effect, each member of his four-person unit has put in their notice as well.

Davis and his fellow DFPS workers, most who spoke with the news outlet on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs indicated that there were feelings of being greatly conflicted over enforcement of the Governor’s directive. Worse is that the resignations of experienced DFPS workers will have a negative impact on other cases involving abuse and neglect in the state they told the Tribune.

“Things are already slipping through the cracks. … We will see investigations that get closed where intervention could have occurred,” one supervisor said. “And children will die in Texas.”

“I understood that things were going to get worse with me leaving. I’m leaving cases behind that have been reassigned two or three times and bounced around from supervisor to supervisor. But do I trade in my ethics and my morality?”— DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax

Numerous DFPS workers who were interviewed told the Tribune “they were told to mark all the cases under Abbott’s directive as sensitive, a rare designation usually reserved for cases in which DFPS employees are personally involved.”

The workers added that they had also instructed “not to communicate about these cases in writing, a directive that struck the employees as unusual, unethical and risky.”

“We document … as relentlessly as we do because it’s a way to make sure there’s individual responsibility for actions that are taken that can be tracked back to who made the decision,” said one Travis County child protective investigations supervisor. “I could be held responsible for a decision made in my case that I didn’t make, but I have no way to defend myself.”

Davis told the Tribune that he couldn’t keep working for an agency that would target families this way. Last week, he put in his notice; he is going to keep working until mid-May to wrap up as many of his open cases as he can to help minimize the burden on his colleagues.

A spokesperson for DFPS declined to comment on the resignations or answer specific questions, citing pending litigation.

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