Right-wing media figures have spent years calling the affirmation of trans kids “child abuse” and asking the government to break up the families of trans people, particularly targeting a specific family in Texas and asking for the state to jail a supportive mother and take her trans child away. On February 22, their rhetoric seems to have influenced a dangerous policy, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed state agencies to investigate parents and medical caregivers of trans youth for child abuse — despite overwhelming evidence that affirming and providing treatment to trans kids dramatically improves their quality of life.
Abbott’s order follows an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which stated that transition-related treatments, including puberty blockers, “can legally constitute child abuse.” Paxton’s opinion, however, is nonbinding, has no legal effect, and does not change Texas law. The state’s child welfare agency has said that it will follow the guidance and investigate reports of alleged abuse, but many local officials have said that they will not. According to NBC 5 Chicago, there’s uncertainty over the impact of Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion, and it’s “largely due to the fact that attorney general opinions do not carry the weight of law. In Houston, the county office that represents the state in civil child abuse cases said it would not take any actions based on the letter.”
Health care providers, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support the affirmation of trans youth, including best-practice transition-related health care. Research shows that trans youth who have access to puberty blockers are happier and less likely to attempt suicide. Abbott’s order, if enacted with the weight of law, is effectively asking every adult around a trans child to be a government informant; his letter specifies “criminal penalties” for doctors, nurses, teachers, and seemingly the public at large who fail to report a visibly transitioning minor to the authorities. Even without the weight of the law, the directive could be devastating simply because it encourages teachers, social workers, and others to “out” trans youth and falsely accuse parents of child abuse.
For years, right-wing media figures have called affirming trans kids “child abuse” and have advocated for government intervention in families with trans kids in Texas
This horrific order is the unsurprising conclusion of a yearslong campaign by the right-wing media to push the idea that affirming and supporting trans youth is child abuse, with Texas as ground zero for their narrative.
In late 2019, this narrative centered around a custody battle between the parents of a trans girl whose mother affirmed her with her chosen name and pronouns while the father refused to accept her and dragged her into a national media storm by repeatedly appearing in right-wing media.
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh wrote that the mother “should be locked in prison for the rest of her life” and suggested it would be “heroic” for the father to kidnap his child and flee the country. A blog in The Federalist titled “Transing Children Is Child Abuse And Should Be Punished” suggested that parents who affirm their trans children’s gender identity “should be hauled away from those kids as fast as possible for their safety.” Right-wing media figures with large followings like Kurt Schlichter of Townhall and Jack Posobiec of One America News Network called for government intervention, while the Blaze Media’s Conservative Review said that new laws were needed.
Texas politicians began to respond to the pressure: Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz wrote on Twitter, “This is horrifying & tragic. For a parent to subject such a young child to life-altering hormone blockers to medically transition their sex is nothing less than child abuse.” Abbott tweeted that the matter “is being looked into by the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.”
On the day the investigation was launched, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, where he noted that Abbott and Paxton had “asked for an investigation by our child protection services.” Host Laura Ingraham responded by calling affirming trans youth “child abuse” and made false and extreme assertions that if young people can be openly trans, children will soon be able to give “consent for sexual activity.” In an appearance the next day on Fox’s The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, Patrick suggested the Texas legislature would look into the matter in their next session.
In April 2021, Texas legislators released a bill that would include gender-affirming treatment of youth in the state’s definition of child abuse. In a May 7 interview with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller about the bill, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson incorrectly referred to trans health care as “castration, chemical and otherwise,” and Miller lied that “some of these children have this done to them as young as two years old.” Miller specifically called for Abbott to use “some of his political powers” to get the bill moving, and later, Carlson said, “I mean, if a Republican governor can’t even weigh in on this, to what extent is he representing his voters, honestly?" The bill died in the state House that month.
Right wing media figures and anti-LGBTQ groups have pushed these narratives at a national level
For years, powerful anti-LGBTQ groups have built the foundation for a campaign to label affirmation of trans children as child abuse, even though studies show that trans children are at risk of suicide when they’re not affirmed and that best-practice medical care and social transition can mitigate the dysphoria they experience.
One figure pushing the narrative that trans health care is abuse is Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project. Schilling’s organization was profiled in 2019 by the New York Times for leading “a conservative push to make trans kids and school sports the next battleground in the culture war” – a goal that they pursued in part with ads on social media that attacked transgender athletes and spread disinformation about trans health care. Schilling has repeatedly argued that affirming trans kids is “child abuse.” In a recent appearance on Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic podcast, Schilling claimed to have raised $750,000 with Bannon’s help with the intent of pressuring Abbott to take this action, saying, “It wasn’t a coincidence that he did this.
Another of the figures pushing this narrative has been Michelle Cretella, speaking on behalf of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) and coordinating with other extreme groups. ACPeds is a splinter group with extreme right-wing beliefs that is not to be confused with the legitimate American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2017, Cretella wrote a piece for The Daily Signal, which is published by the Heritage Foundation, titled “Transgender Ideology Has Infiltrated My Field and Produced Large-Scale Child Abuse.” She also appeared on a panel for the Heritage Foundation where she incorrectly referred to puberty blockers as “chemical castration” and said that teaching children about trans identities was “abusive.” In 2018, at an event for the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council, Cretella compared transition care to “child abuse” and said that trans people were like people suffering from anorexia.
Abbott is giving the world a preview of what these extremists want for all of America: trans children afraid to be themselves for fear of being ripped from their parents and placed into foster care, parents afraid to affirm their children for fear of prison, and doctors afraid to provide life-saving medical care for fear of the State.