Another DFPS meeting about investigating gender-affirming care as child abuse

I did not have any pride swag. This was my thought last Friday morning as I prepared to go to the headquarters of the Department of Family Protective Services, which is the agency tasked with preventing and responding to child abuse and neglect in Texas. This was my second time to attend a DFPS meeting in order to share testimony on behalf of a transgender child or family member. I wrote about the first time here.

“Wear your pride swag!” the email from Equality Texas had instructed when I signed up to read a statement at the DFPS meeting. But on Friday morning, I realized that I didn’t have so much as a rainbow pin in my possession. There might have been something in my daughter’s room, but I had neither the time nor the energy to excavate the surface layer of her alleged desk (I believe there’s a desk in there somewhere but it’s debatable). As I pulled out of my driveway, I saw that my neighbor was outside watering his plants. I thought about asking him for last-minute pride swag but decided that this was poor form for an ally. So I drove off, swag-less but on schedule.

The first time I attended a DFPS meeting was in March, a couple of weeks after Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive ordering DFPS to investigate families who seek gender-affirming care for their children as potential abusers. All the chairs in the public hearing room were filled that day, and people were standing and sitting on the floor in the back. This time, there were plenty of empty chairs. I wondered how many people who were initially outraged at the Governor’s directive had mistakenly thought that the Texas Supreme Court’s order to cease investigating certain families meant that the threat to transgender minors and their families was over. The court ruled that “neither the Governor nor the Attorney General has statutory authority to directly control DFPS’s investigatory decisions,” but DFPS did not change course.

As I entered the room, I was happy to see the familiar faces of the advocates from Equality Texas. As instructed, I walked up to a man in rainbow glasses to receive the statement that I would read. “I have no pride swag!” I confessed. He said, “Let’s remedy that,” confirmed that my pronouns were she/her, and gave me two pins: one with the Equality Texas logo and one with my pronouns. He also handed me a piece of paper with a statement written by the mother of a transgender girl who has been having panic attacks since hearing about the DFPS investigations on the news.

A pin with the shape of Texas filled in with rainbow colors and another pin with she/her/hers pronouns.

The DFPS board meeting began with each division of the agency providing an update to the board. According to the head of the Child Protective Investigations division, CPI had opened 14 investigations involving transgender minors receiving gender-affirming care. Of that number, 11 were dismissed, 3 were in litigation, and no children had been removed from their families. One board member, Matt Kouri, asked how many investigations were opened in 2022, and the division head replied that there were approximately 260,000.

This exchange would come up again.

As public comment got underway, it soon became obvious that the tone of this meeting would be different than the last time. At the meeting in March, people said that they were afraid of being investigated, and many talked about feeling forced to move out of state. At this meeting, the overarching theme of the testimony was that, even if the number of families being investigated is small, the impact of the DFPS investigations has had a major harmful effect on transgender youth and their family members. A couple of the activists directly addressed Kouri’s pointed questioning. According to them, after a previous meeting Kouri had approached a group of activists standing at the back of the room. He told them they were “wasting their time,” because the number of investigations was so small. The testimony offered at this meeting was designed to respond to Kouri’s argument: Even if the number of families actually being investigated is a small percentage of DFPS’s statewide caseload, the testimony reflected that the fear, uncertainty, and anxiety stirred up by this campaign had already exacted a significant toll on families across the state.

“This is terrorism,” one person said. A mother’s statement described her cisgender children’s terror of being ripped away from their home after investigators questioned them at school about their trans sibling. I wondered how many people know that when a parent is suspected of abusing one child, DFPS has to remove all the children in the household. The cost of therapy for this family after the investigation totaled around $800. But the mother paid for it, of course, because don’t we all want to provide the care that our children need?

I read a statement by a different mother, who described the panic attacks that her trans daughter had been experiencing since she heard about the DFPS investigations on the news. “DFPS is supposed to protect kids,” she wrote, “but parents of trans kids are having to protect their kids from DFPS.”

Like last time, several people who showed up to testify had some previous involvement with the foster care system, especially trans adults removed from parents who tried to beat them into gender conformity — some of whom ended up with foster parents who weren’t any better. One woman said: “This policy provides cover for the real abusers. I can only imagine how my life would have turned out differently if my parents had affirmed who I was instead of trying to beat it out of me.”

A bearded man in rumpled jeans who introduced himself as a former foster parent broke down crying in the middle of his assigned statement, which recounted a trans teenager’s suicide attempts. I felt myself tearing up with him. This guy gave off such good dad vibes. I wondered, not for the first time, why some people care so much and others so little.

Since I started writing this account, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has requested information from the Department of Public Safety about the number of Texans who have changed their gender on their state-issued driver’s licenses. According to the Texas Tribune, the driver’s license division staff were told that Paxton wanted “numbers” but would later request “a list” of names, as well as “the number of people who had had a legal sex change.” I can’t fathom how this inquiry relates to the attorney general’s duties, as described on his website, to defend the laws and Constitution of the State of Texas or to “champion liberty and justice for Texas.” But one thing is clear: these playground bullies are not going to let up on their boy/girl obsession while they are still in power.

Ever since the first meeting I attended in the spring, one mother’s quote has been ringing in my ears: “Texas is not an easy state to live in, but it’s home.” That is how I feel about this state, and I believe I have a responsibility to help LGBTQ+ feel safe here. In Texas, our state legislature meets for 140 days every two years. The 2023 session begins January 10, and lawmakers are already filing bills. You can find a bill tracker on the Equality Texas website, where anti-LGBTQ+ bills are broken down into categories of healthcare, education, identity documents, policing businesses, and more. If you care, it’s time to get that pride swag and go to work.

A picture of a mother’s printed statement regarding her trans daughter’s anxiety attacks after learning about DFPS investigations into families that provide gender-affirming care.



“Examining my own life, describing it in detail, exposing it ruthlessly" - Henry Miller

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Sarah Orman

“Examining my own life, describing it in detail, exposing it ruthlessly" - Henry Miller