Texas Senators Continue to Insist They Know More About Trans Kids Than Their Parents Do

Liz's daughter, Cal at a trans-advocacy day event; they have been attending them together as a family since she came out.
Liz's daughter, Cal at a trans-advocacy day event; they have been attending them together as a family since she came out. Photo by Liz
Liz waited 14 hours along with more than 400 other people at the Texas Capitol to testify against a bill that would restrict access to transgender gender-affirming care to minors – only to get turned away when the clock struck midnight.

Her reason for waiting: her daughter, Cal. A nine-year old little girl who loves playing with her brother, Collin, pointing out her favorite countries on the world map and snuggling up with the family dog, Jax.

“They (the legislators) need to face these faces that they are hurting and see the emotions and the pain that we are going through,” Liz said. “People are up there begging for their humanity, and they just sit there and smile; they don’t care at all.”
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Cal and Collin love playing with Cal's squishmallow (a type of stuffed animal) collection; her favorite is an axolotl.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
Bills concerning LGBTQ+ rights’ have been brought to both the Texas House and the Senate since 2019; however, in recent years, there has been an increase in proposed legislation targeting transgender individuals, youth and their families, said Adri Perez, the organizing director of Texas Freedom Network.

In fact, Texas is now the leading state with the highest number – 57 – of anti-trans bills up for consideration this legislative session.

Of the 57 under review, three bills have passed in the Senate and are being sent over to the House for consideration.

One of these bills is Senate Bill 14, which addresses the latest efforts by Republican lawmakers to propose a block in access to gender-affirming care to minors, with claims that providing the care causes harm to these children.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick commended the Senate’s action in approving this bill, which was one of his top priorities this session. The bill prohibits health care providers from prescribing puberty blockers or performing sex change surgeries on minors unless deemed medically necessary.

If passed by the House and signed by the governor, this bill would give the Texas Medical Board the right to revoke the license of any health care provider if they are practicing gender-affirming care.

Under the bill’s provisions, no public money could go to any health care providers and any medical school or hospital that provides these surgeries or medications.

A similar bill is making its way through the Texas House – HB 1686 – which would also restrict transgender minors’ access to gender-affirming by stripping medical professionals’ licenses and ban the distribution of public money to these providers and any institutions assisting with this care.

“This is not something that is legitimate at all, this is an attack on transgender people and a threat to science and the medical industry as a whole,” Perez said.

Perez said one of the supporters from the American College of Pediatricians, Dr. Quentin Van Meter, who gave testimony before the House committee, was ruled as a non-expert on the matter in out of state courts.

“These bills are being proposed with a complete lack of evidence and spreading misinformation about this care,” Perez said. “This medical association has become a pseudo-legitimate agency that is now attempting to give scientific credibility to a movement that doesn’t have it,” Perez said.

Liz said she gets frustrated when listening to testimonies in support of these bills as most of those speaking cherry-pick a single sentence from research that will align with their own personal agendas.

“They are not wanting to view this gender-affirming care as essential health care,” Liz said. “Instead, they are wanting to look at it, listen, read and research about it through their political eyes.”

The World Health Organization defines gender-affirming care as social, psychological, behavioral and medical interventions to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity.

For younger transgender children this care can consist of counseling and affirmative displays of gender expression – such as choosing preferred pronouns and names or wearing clothing that aligns with the child’s preferred gender. For older adolescents it includes medication, such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy.

Once transgender individuals are 18, many choose to get certain surgeries to their chest and reproductive parts; however, these surgeries are rarely – if ever performed on younger children, said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, medical director for primary and transgender care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Kumar said a majority of all professional medical organizations not only support this form of care but encourage it.

“These interventions can be implemented and prevent poor outcomes from happening,” Kumar said. “I’m talking about depression and anxiety, other mental health conditions that can worsen and sometimes lead to suicidality and death. So, we’re really talking about saving peoples’ lives and the more politicians interfere with that, the more we’re going to see people suffer and potentially die.”

Although not all transgender children need access to mental health care, some do, as they struggle with gender dysphoria or need additional emotional support throughout their transitioning process that they may not get outside of professional care, Kumar said.

Despite directly attacking transgender gender-affirming care, these bills also pose a threat to gender-affirming care in intersex youth (People who have genitals, chromosomes or reproductive organs that don't fit into a male/female sex binary), Perez said.

“While this bill pushes to protect children from surgeries that same bill mandates surgeries on intersex youth, so it’s about stopping transgender youth from existing and in some ways forcing conversation therapy on intersex youth,” Perez said.

Liz and her husband Eugene (who declined to have their family members’ real names used in this article) had many difficult conversations in hushed tones on the back porch after Cal came out as transgender when she was four years old.
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Liz and Eugene started affirming Cal's gender around the time she was five years old.
Photo by Liz
According to Liz, a common misconception is that children just “become” like this one day, when in reality, they started seeing signs of Cal’s identity emerge as she began learning how to talk.

Not completely unversed in transgender topics, both Liz and Eugene work with children, as a licensed counselor and science teacher respectively. They still felt like they needed guidance on the next steps and decided to take Cal to see her pediatrician.

When Liz described what was going on with her daughter, the doctor said, “you know trendy, is not always healthy.” A few weeks later, after Liz left the clinic to follow a nurse practitioner who had moved to another facility, the pediatrician called back and apologized – telling her that he thought she was right about her daughter’s identity.

“I shouldn’t have to educate a doctor like that, that was really traumatizing for me, it took a lot of courage for me to say that there was something going on with my child and that I needed help,” Liz said. “It really hurt to be shunned like that, even if they did apologize, the whole situation was just a lot.”

Prior to seeking care, Cal would grow frustrated when her parents would ask her about her identity. She didn’t understand why she had to get her hair cut or play with “boy things.”

“As a parent I am responsible for her well-being – physical, mental and academic – and she flourished with affirmation,” Eugene said. “In my career, I have probably had a handful of students that were in Cal’s position, that were not receiving the same sort of affirmation at home and there was a block that not only prevented them from being successful in my classroom, but in life.”

Kumar said that there is evidence clearly indicating that when children have access to gender-affirming care they are better off with it, than without it.

And for older adolescents that may be on puberty blockers or receiving hormone therapy, these medications assist in these other affirmative elements of their care, Kumar said.

“These medications have been FDA-approved since the 1990s,” he said. “Not only is there ample evidence for its use in trans and gender diverse care, but it has also been used for a number of conditions including breast cancer, prostate cancer and endometriosis – and deemed safe in all these treatments.”

And according to Kumar, the claims that this medicine is irreversible by Texas Legislators are incorrect. Puberty blockers are entirely reversible in their effect and many of the effects of hormone therapy are also reversible – contingent on the length of time an individual has taken them.

Kumar said to the legislators that are in support of this bill, none of these facts matter; instead, their concern is advancing their political ideologies at the cost of people’s health care and lives.

“These bills that we’re talking about are about transgender youth and they affects them, but they have an impact on everybody,” Kumar said. “They tell transgender youth their health care is up for debate, they tell their families that there’s something to consider that is not okay or unhealthy, and they get between the relationship a doctor should have with a patient – and the care they can provide.”

And this sentiment is shared nation-wide, as Missouri – who has the second highest number of anti-trans bills after Texas – alongside Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa and Mississippi introduced similar bills restricting transgender-affirming care, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker.

In many of these states during earlier legislative sessions, legislators first proposed anti-trans bills barring transgender college athletes’ rights to compete, then introduced the bathroom bills banning transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that aligned with their gender and bills that equated parents providing their children with gender affirmation to child abuse.

In Texas, the Senate recently passed SB15 which would bar transgender athletes on the collegiate level joining a team that corresponds with their gender identity.

In response to bills like these in Texas and other states, the Biden Administration has proposed changes to Title IX that would make it illegal to on a broad basis, ban transgender athletes from sports teams that match their gender identity – but there are loopholes.

Cal is not enrolled in sports but does love taking hip-hop classes at her local dance studio. Liz said this was not a problem when she was younger, but now that she is older, she has to ask for the studio’s approval.

This “vetting process” that Liz uses applies to every corner of their lives. If Cal gets a haircut, she checks out who the hairdresser is. If Cal needs to be taken care of, Liz only entrusts her with people she has approved of.

“Sometimes, I just feel so drained and pissed off that I have to call and ask, is this a safe space for my kid, are you a person I can leave my kid with and guarantee that she will feel safe and be protected?” Liz said.

Pam Thompson, the Montgomery chapter president of PFLAG, the first organization dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families.

“These legislators that are for the bill claim to be small-government, yet they are trying to tell people how to raise their children on the basis of lies.”

Thompson said that she has seen many families who have LGBTQ+ children leave the state because they feel as if their children’s futures are not guaranteed here in Texas.

“We have families that have left because of job reasons, but those are job reasons that came at a good time for what was the right choice for their family,” Thompson said. “They were concerned, especially parents of transgender children, for the safety of their kids.”

A thought that Liz and Eugene have also shared. “This is where I grew up, this is where Liz grew up and where Collin and Cal have grown up; but if we have to uproot because things get worse, that’s what we will do. She comes first; but right now, when it comes to fight or flight, our family is fighting,” Eugene said.
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Eugene and Liz want to fight to keep their family in the state they've called home for their whole lives.
Photo by Faith Bugenhagen
“I wish I didn’t have to think about these things, but I do,” Cal said. “I try not to worry until something actually happens, because my mom always says that my health care is just a plane flight away.”

Collin, only a year younger than his older sister, said that if the legislators do pass the “bad bills” they could just pick up and move to the moon.

Cal interjected and said Venus may be the better option, before Liz jokingly told her children that outer space may not be the most optimal relocation.

“I am a mama bear, through hell or high water, I will find a safe path for my kid,” Liz said. “I don’t want her to have to worry about this even though I know she already does; if these bills go through, I tell her we will figure it out. I don’t know how yet, but we will.”

On the day of the hearing for the HB1686 a total number of 2,810 attendees registered against the bill and only 96 signed up in support of it. The number of those in opposition of the bill was the third highest number of signatures against a bill ever recorded in the Texas Legislature, Liz said.

Johnathan Gooch, communications director of Equality Texas, said that this public turn out in support of transgender youth shows that legislators’ actions do not mirror what a majority of Texas residents want.

“When we think about why the lawmakers are doing this or what the impetus is behind it, I unfortunately see a lot of national money or specific interest groups funneling money toward particular Texas lawmakers and that concerns me,” Gooch said.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, data collected showed that 75 percent of Texans – out of the 22,984 people randomly polled across the U.S. – support statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.

“There is a lot at stake for transgender people and these legislators need to realize that there should be no debate on whether or not trans people deserve to live,” Gooch said.

“I think these lawmakers find power in passing these radical hateful and harmful bills,” Liz said. “They are hypocrites, they talk about how parents deserve rights and that they trust Texan parents and in one breath what they stand for no longer applies when it comes to me and my kid because she is trans.”

Cal refers to these lawmakers who often hold the balance of her life in their hands, as evil Komodo dragons in suits – to which her mother laughs in response, but this comment isn’t exactly funny to either of them.

“My daughter is going to change the world, that is if the Legislature doesn’t hurt her so much that she is scared to do what she needs to do in this life,” Liz said.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.