Transgender youth are under attack in America. Up to 18 states have proposed laws banning transgender people from gender affirming care with various age cutoffs.
Many states have proposed banning them from sports that match their gender identity. Some states have proposed bathroom bans and bans on using the pronouns and names of transgender students.
Now, though, we are seeing a new kind of law that is gaining traction on the far right: the intentional removal of transgender minors from the homes of affirming parents and the charging of those parents with child abuse - in some cases carrying lengthy prison sentences.
The modern weaponization of child protective services against transgender people started with Governor Greg Abbott in Texas in February, 2022. Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to the Texas House of Representatives arguing that gender affirming care for trans youth constituted child abuse. Although no such law existed that explicitly banned gender affirming care, AG Paxton stated that gender affirming care “deprives minor children of their constitutional right to procreate” and “causes mental and emotional injury to a child” as well as “physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child.”
Four days later, Gov. Paxton issued guidance to the Department of Family and Protective Services to begin investigating the parents of trans youth as child abuse. This kicked off a series of events where parents in Texas were threatened with removal of their children and child abuse investigations. Some trans youth attempted suicide while other families fled the state. This policy was not spelled out in official law, though, and has since been blocked in court.
Now, legislators in five states have sought to codify gender affirming care as child abuse in their official law. This would make it harder to block enforcement in court and give states justification to begin utilizing the carceral system and child services to strip trans children from their parents.
In the realm of anti-trans bills, these are among the most terrifying - bills that threaten to destroy entire families for following the best medical guidelines for their youth available. These states are Missouri, Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming.
If these bills pass, trans youth in these states may be rehomed to non-affirming foster parents and abused in the foster system while their parents are thrown in jail or separated from their children.
The ways in which these states propose to define gender affirming care as child abuse are extremely damaging. Indiana, for instance, would define gender affirming care as a form of “conversion therapy,” something that prominent anti-trans leaders like Hellen Joyce have been pushing for. Indiana’s bill places gender affirming care alongside terrible forms of torture like electric shocks to genitals or ice water baths:
Further down the line, it then states that the penalty for any of these is reporting it to the child protective services as child abuse or neglect:
Texas’ bill goes a step further and explicitly charges the parents for consenting to puberty blockers or hormone therapy for their trans youth as child abuse. It states that “consenting” to gender affirming care would qualify as child abuse under Texas law:
Mississippi and Missouri also both have language targeting transgender parents for child abuse. Mississippi would define an abused child as anyone whose parent or guardian has consented to puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy. Abused children are handled by the youth court in Mississippi which has the power to remove them from homes.
Missouri would charge the parent with child abuse or neglect if the they “coerce a child” to undergo gender affirming care. They do not define coercion, and people on the far right who believe that trans kids do not exist could very easily argue that all trans youth are “coerced” into transition.
Among the worst of the anti-trans child abuse bills is the bill proposed in Wyoming. This bill would charge someone with child abuse with prison sentences of up to 10 years if the person “inflicts” gender affirming care on a transgender child. It specifically states that consent of the parents is not a defense, and parents could be seen as accessories to the “crime” of child abuse if they consent to that care under Wyoming law and they could be given the same prison sentences:
These bills seek to criminalize parents and doctors and weaponize state enforcement agencies against transgender youth. They would tear apart families and children would suffer. Gender affirming care in and of itself is enormously protective for transgender youth - according to a study released in JAMA, it reduces the risk of suicidality by 73% - an enormous reduction that results in real lives saved. On the flipside, studies have shown that youth placed in foster care are 3-5x more likely to die by suicide.
Removing trans youth from a home where their suicide risk has been reduced due to receiving the best medical care, and placing them into a system that is characterized by an already extremely high risk of suicide is extremely inhumane and would carry with it a death toll.
In states like Texas, this has already played out. When Texas’ governor attempted to unilaterally enforce child abuse provisions against the families of trans youth, people attempted suicide. One trans youth had a suicide crisis and needed to be driven hours away to Oklahoma to ensure that when they got their medical care, they would not then be taken by the state into the Texas foster care system rife with abuse. If we see this practiced on a mass scale with the full backing of state legislatures, the impacts will be even more dire.
The threats of mass removal of a minority community from the homes of loving family should be a wakeup call. We know where forced removal of minority communities leads in history. Children who belong to loving families do not deserve to be separated from those families for following the best medical guidelines around their treatment.
Children who are well adjusted, loved, and supported as they are allowed to live their lives as their authentic selves deserve to be celebrated, not demonized. The parents of these children are heroes, not abusers. These five states should be ashamed for proposing laws that would target them and tear their families apart.
This piece originally appeared on ErinInTheMorning.substack.com