These families with trans kids are leaving their home states to escape criminalization: ‘We’re ready to fight and defend’

St. Paul, Minnesota. March 6, 2022. Because the attacks against transgender kids are increasing across the country Minneasotans hold a rally at the capitol to support trans kids in Minnesota, Texas, and around the country. (Photo by: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Parents, students and teachers protest legislative attacks on transgender youth in March 2022 in Minnesota. (Photo: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

This year alone, over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, many of them aiming to criminalize the practice of gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Now, as a consequence, some parents of trans children feel forced to make a difficult choice: Should they stay in their communities and risk the decline of their child's mental health, or should they flee to another state that legally provides the care the kids say they desperately need?

“This has caused a great deal of stress, sadness and anxiety as we try to navigate these uncertain and turbulent waters,” a 44-year-old Texas father of three, one of them a transgender teenage son, tells Yahoo Life. He chose not to share his identity out of an abundance of caution for his family’s safety.

The Texas father says his wife and son are temporarily living in Colorado, where his son is seeking gender-affirming care. Meanwhile, he is holding down the fort in Texas with his other two children — both of whom are over 18. He says the situation has created immense stress for everyone.

“As a family we were already dealing with a lot of emotions with helping our youngest through his transition, and how that impacted our family and those around us,” he says. “The idea of my family being split between two states breaks my heart. My family heritage runs deep in Texas, with family going back to before it was even called Texas. My wife and son will have to be residents in a new state, with [us] being hundreds of miles away.”

In Texas and other conservative states — such as Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma — legislators have gone to great lengths to target the parents of trans children. Gov. Greg Abbott, for example, directed the Texas child welfare agency to criminally investigate parents who approve of their child undergoing gender-affirming care, though last month a court blocked his actions for the second time.

This comes as leading health care organizations there — including the Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society — have stated that gender-affirming care is the best way to provide for the needs of trans youth. Other national organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, have expressed similar support.

Because of Abbott's directive, parents like Amber Briggle, who is staying put for now at least, experienced at-home visits from child protective services, which she says threatened to take her 14-year-old transgender son away. Her story later became the focus of a GLAAD-sponsored PSA aiming to spread awareness about LGBTQ youth.

"I’m hoping that people will put themselves in our shoes and imagine what that would feel like to have an agent of the state come into your home, interrogate your family and threaten to take your children away," she told Yahoo Life in April. "This is not a hypothetical political ploy anymore — this is really happening, and we need the nation to wake up, stand up, and fight back."

Shortly after Gov. Abbott directed agencies to investigate parents of trans youth as potential criminals, the Texas father says he received a six-month notice from his physicians stating they would no longer provide gender-affirming care to his son “out of fear of being sued or prosecuted.”

Though his family is split between Texas and Colorado right now, he's making plans to resettle his entire family in California, where a new law, SB 107, aims to make the state a “sanctuary” for trans youth and their families. In essence, the law prohibits law enforcement agencies from knowingly arresting or extraditing people based on another state’s law against gender-affirming services to minors (as well as other individual protections).

Sen. Scott Wiener, a gay state senator from San Francisco, sponsored the legislation. He hopes the law sends a clear message to trans people living in conservative states: “We have your backs.”

“It's very devastating for people when powerful national figures in Congress or governors are attacking them and demonizing them, and trying to erase them. That's terrifying, especially for kids,” Wiener tells Yahoo Life, noting that the goal of the law is not to recruit more Californians but rather to give families a safety net when or if they aren't supported by their elected representatives.

“We want them to be able to live happily in the communities where they are, but if they do feel unsafe, and they want to come here, we want to be welcoming,” he says. “It’s obviously very traumatic for anyone to have to pick up and just move to another state, out of fear. These families, they’ve lived in these communities maybe for generations.”

One Texas mother, who also chose not to disclose her identity because of safety concerns, recently moved her family to California so that her transgender child can have the services she says they need.

“When we heard that the state of Texas was investigating parents of transgender children, initially, we were in disbelief,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We had been doing everything we could to take care of our child — listening to them, seeking guidance from our pediatrician and medical professionals, and getting educated on how to support them. So, to suddenly be in danger of having our child interrogated by strangers at their school, and be threatened by the state to take our child away from us was unfathomable.”

She says the stress became so heavy that it eventually affected her personal relationships.

“We were terrified,” she recalls. “Because the state is telling teachers, counselors, medical professionals, and communities that they have to ‘tell’ on anyone they suspect to be supportive of their trans child, we couldn't share what we were going through with anyone. The worst of it is that instead of just being a kid, our child now knows that they are the target of misinformation and hate.”

Everything it takes to start over as a family — navigating a fast move across the country, finding housing and new schools and figuring out how to make a living — may be extra challenging for trans youth, many of whom might carry feelings of guilt because of the stress they’ve caused on the family.

“Can you imagine being a young child and knowing that your very identity has caused your family the trauma of having to pick up and move to a different state?” Kathie Moehlig, executive director of Trans Families SOS, which offers support services to families with trans children, tells Yahoo Life.

Moehlig’s organization was one of several to co-sponsor the California law. To date, she says the organization has helped over 3,000 families find the resources they need. Of that number, nearly a dozen have fled their home states to find sanctuary elsewhere, including in California. She says the situation has escalated in recent months, given that families are now actually fleeing potential criminality.

“That you can't get access to medically necessary treatment because a politician, not a doctor, has said you shouldn't be allowed to have it, that affects the child, that affects the parents, that affects the larger family,” Moehlig, the mother of a trans son, says of the snowball effect. “These are the same politicians that cry about the states having their own rights to decide things like abortion, but you're gonna take away my rights as a parent?”

In the meantime, a growing number of student-led protests are extending the issue of trans rights from the home to the schoolyard — which makes sense, as roughly 21% of Gen-Z (those born between 1997 and 2003) identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, per a recent Gallup poll.

In September, thousands of high schoolers in Virginia protested Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to restrict protections for trans students, with many arguing the proposal requiring students to use the facility that match their biological sex is about more than simply using the restroom.

“I am scared of this man. My friends are scared of this man. How can he stand there and say he loves this country and loves this state if he wants to hurt us?” Casey Calabia, a nonbinary high school student in Virginia, told a local news station about Youngkin’s position. “I nearly committed suicide. These are really kids who are scared out of their minds because of this policy.”

Similar youth-led protests are happening in other parts of the country, including in Minnesota and Arizona, where hundreds of high schoolers walked out of their schools to speak out against anti-trans legislation in September.

"I am really angry — all the time," Leela Raj-Sankar, an Arizona teen activist told the Arizona Mirror. "I want to be able to do something with that anger. I don’t want to just stand up here and say there will be change without being the one to put my feet on the ground and do something about it."

Still, for parents like the Texas dad, putting feet on the ground to leave his home state is the only answer.

"I am very proud of the man my son is becoming," he says of his trans teen. "There was a time we almost lost him and wondered if he would live to see another birthday. Now we sit and hear him talk about his future. My hope and dream for him is that he finds a community that not only accepts him, but embraces him."

He adds, "We are ready to fight and defend him at any time. I hope that one day he sees this world change."

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