In recent years, LGBT lobbyists and activists have outlawed safe and effective talk-therapies (so-called “conversion therapies”) for children with gender dysphoria and championed harmful gender-transition experiments in their place. They have conspired with schools behind parents’ backs to encourage children to reject their bodies and their families. Now, they are reaping what they’ve sown, as lawmakers not in thrall to their ideology push back.
Last month, Texas governor Greg Abbott wrote a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), ordering the agency to investigate the parents of children who are subjected to “abusive gender-transitioning procedures.” Abbott’s letter followed Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s legal opinion stating that gender transitions for minors can constitute child abuse under existing state law.
As Paxton noted, gender-transition treatments and procedures can render children lifetime medical patients with chronic pain and serious mental-health issues, as well as result in permanent sterilization. Abbott is right to take these medically inflicted harms seriously. However, in going after parents, he has picked the wrong target.
Conservatives have long insisted that parents should be free to raise their children without state interference, according to their own beliefs and values. Accepting or even encouraging a child’s belief that he or she is of a different gender certainly is harmful, but it does not cross the necessarily high threshold appropriate for forfeiting parental rights.
Besides, the governor’s strategy does not seem viable. Already multiple county and district attorneys have said they will not enforce the order, a district judge has blocked it, and the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a DFPS employee, whose 16-year-old child is transgender-identified.
All this unfortunately distracts from the merits of Paxton’s case. Child abuse is defined in Texas law as physical injury “that results in substantial harm to the child,” or mental or emotional injury “that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.” Medical and surgical gender transition fits this description. However, it is clinicians who are primarily responsible for such harms. A more effective approach was taken by Arkansas in its Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which prohibits health-care providers from performing or referring minors for gender-transition procedures.
Just as pro-life lawmakers target abortionists, rather than women seeking illegal abortions, trans-skeptical lawmakers ought to focus their efforts on gender clinicians instead of misguided parents.
Moreover, the ACLU claims that Abbott’s order “redefines” child abuse. But really, it is transgender activists who have fought to redefine abuse to include parental reluctance to facilitate or encourage a child’s gender transition. Such sophistry has led schools to withhold important information from parents about the mental state of their children, lest the parents object to their “social transitions.”
And in some extreme cases, family courts have used a parent’s opposition to a child’s transition as grounds to deny him or her custody after a divorce.
In order to protect parents from such attacks on their rights, the Florida Senate recently passed the Parental Rights in Education bill (hysterically mislabeled by progressives as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill). The legislation strengthens transparency in education, making it illegal for schools to refuse to share information with parents about changes in their child’s mental, emotional, or physical health. The bill also prohibits the instruction of children in kindergarten to grade three in matters related to “gender identity and sexual orientation” by third parties or school personnel. None of this ought to be controversial. Kindergarten is not college. Nor are schools “ideological playgrounds,” as Governor Ron DeSantis said in reference to the bill. Only monomaniacs insist that children who don’t yet know their ABCs need to know their LGBTs.
If anything, the Florida bill could afford to be more assertive. As drafted, the law states that school districts “may not prohibit parents from accessing” their child’s education and health records, and “may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel” from notifying parents about changes in their child’s records. Why not change this to an affirmative duty? Why not put parents back in the driver’s seat by requiring schools to be more upfront?
Beyond grade three, the bill allows for gender ideology to be taught so long as it is “age-appropriate.” But “age-appropriate” according to whom? Is there ever an appropriate age to tell a child that puberty may be optional? Discussing varieties in human sexuality and identity with older children is one thing, but some ideological creeds — gender ideology and critical race theory among them — are so dubious and divisive that they ought to be kept out of the classroom.
The aim of empowering parents and shielding young children from ideological zealots is a noble one. Despite claims to the contrary, it is the LGBT lobby — not parents — who are the real culture-war aggressors in our nation’s schools and communities. Tactical shortcomings notwithstanding, Florida and Texas Republicans are right to fight back.