Our Job is to Protect Kids, Not Out Them

Take notes, Texas.

Illustration of student wearing a trans flag pin

On February 22, many families in Texas who affirm and support their transgender youth were made fearful of sending their children to school by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement that affirming a transgender young person’s gender identity could be considered “child abuse” under Texas law. This directive has prompted many families to create safe folders to protect their families from accusations of child abuse and to even consider leaving the state of Texas. 

While this opinion is non-binding, Governor Abbott also issued a directive to the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to launch investigations into any instances of what he refers to as “these abusive procedures.” Under threat of criminal prosecution, he called on any licensed professionals—including teachers—to report families who affirm their transgender children for potential investigation.

It’s our job to protect our most marginalized students

Weaponizing teachers against their transgender students and supportive families is the opposite of creating safe schools for all students. This is especially true as it concerns students with marginalized identities. Many Texas educators feel confused and conflicted. They know their professional obligation is for the safety and well-being of their students first. But this directive seemingly asks them to do the opposite.

We aren’t legally compelled to out students or families

Lambda Legal has released a guide with important clarifications: Attorney General Paxton’s Opinion and Governor Abbott’s Letter are not legally binding. Texas law protects families from false reports of child abuse. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects transgender young people’s privacy in schools. 

“No court here in Texas or anywhere in the country has ever found that medically necessary gender-affirming care can be considered child abuse.”

The Texas State Teachers Association and NEA also issued a joint statement that Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ill-conceived and harmful directive is an affront to the dignity and respect due to both transgender children and the people who care for and about them.

What is gender-affirming care?

Much of the pushback about gender-affirming care is based on misinformation. Pre-pubertal youth are socially transitioning, which can mean using a new name and/or pronouns and possibly getting a new hairstyle and clothes. No one in Texas is having surgery until they are a legal adult and have gone through an extensive process to prepare physically and emotionally for this medical care. Some adolescents will take puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones. This is done under the guidance and care of a medical professional and their parents.

For many youth, this can be lifesaving. A recent study from the Trevor Project provides data supporting this. Transgender youth with access to gender-affirming hormone therapy have lower rates of depression. They are also at a lower risk for suicide. Additionally, this study shows that parental support is vital in ensuring transgender youth’s mental and physical health. 

Human Rights Campaign Foundation reports that every major medical and mental health organization in the country supports gender-affirming care for transgender and non-binary people, and Prevent Child Abuse America has condemned the Attorney General’s opinion.

What can educators do?

As teachers, it’s our job to make sure all the kids in our care feel affirmed and to build relationships with their families and caregivers. Follow these organizations for updates on how to #protecttranskids in Texas:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s happening in Texas. Please share in the comments.

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Our Job is to Protect Kids, Not Out Them