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Judge temporarily blocks Texas investigations into families of trans kids

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Posted at 5:59 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 18:59:04-05

State District Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled Friday that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services cannot continue to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children for child abuse. The statewide injunction will remain in effect until the case is heard in July.

Meachum said there is a "substantial likelihood that" lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal will prevail in getting this directive permanently overturned, calling Abbott's actions "beyond the scope of his duty and unconstitutional."

This ruling came after a day of arguments about the directive, issued last month.

A supervisor for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services testified Friday that the child abuse investigations into families of transgender children ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott 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, according to Randa Mulanax, an investigative supervisor with DFPS.

Mulanax was called to testify at a court hearing before state District Judge Amy Clark Meachum to determine whether to block Abbott’s Feb. 22 directive to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children.

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.”

Abbott’s move to have families of transgender children investigated for abuse — made one week before the state's March 1 primary — followed a nonbinding legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the parents of a transgender child who were investigated by child welfare workers after the mother, a state employee, asked questions about the new directive.

Meachum granted a temporary restraining order last week, which halted this one case, but there are currently nine families under investigation for gender-affirming care, according to DFPS.

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 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.

A lawyer for the state asked Mulanax if any transgender children had been removed from their homes or been taken off of medication prescribed by a doctor. Mulanax said the cases had not been resolved and to her knowledge, no one had been removed or taken off of medication.

A psychologist who treats children with gender dysphoria testified to the court about the “outright panic” that her patients and health care providers have been feeling since this directive went into effect.

Megan Mooney is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She testified about the conflict this directive has created for herself and other professionals who the state considers mandatory reporters of child abuse.

A requirement to report her clients for receiving “medically necessary and professionally-upheld standards of care” would be devastating to her clients and her business, Mooney said.

She said she doesn't believe she is in violation of any laws, since Paxton’s opinion was non-binding, but the Governor's directive has sowed confusion and anxiety, as well as created an ethical conflict.

Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello asked whether Mooney’s personal ethical disagreement with a policy means that she doesn’t have to follow it.

“My ethical code from the American Psychological Association suggests that when our ethics and our laws are in conflict, we take every effort to remedy that,” Mooney said. “That is in part why I am here today.”

Corbello walked Mooney through the World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards for providing care for minors with gender dysphoria — assessing the child; providing family counseling and psychotherapy to children; treating any co-existing mental health concerns; and providing fully-reversible physical interventions, among other steps.

Mooney agreed with these steps, though she said sometimes they happen simultaneously.

This story will be updated.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/11/transgender-texas-court-hearing/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.