Episcopal leaders condemn Texas governor’s labeling of transgender medical treatments as child abuse

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 25, 2022
Transgender protest at Texas State Capitol

Demonstrators gather on the steps to the Texas State Capitol in Austin in May 2021 to speak against transgender-related legislation bills being considered. Photo: Associated Press

[Episcopal News Service] Texas Bishop Andrew Doyle and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president, are among the Episcopal leaders condemning Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to classify transgender medical treatments as child abuse and investigate them as such.

Doyle advised Episcopal clergy and school staff not to comply with Abbott’s directive targeting transgender adolescents. “The gov’s statement has no force of law. ALL people are welcome in churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas without fear – we offer only love,” the bishop said on Twitter.

On Feb. 24, Jennings said in a letter to the House of Deputies that Abbott’s “reprehensible statement” on transgender adolescents “puts some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and their families, in grave danger.”

“Denying the full humanity of transgender people, putting beloved children of God at risk, and threatening to separate loving families is cruel and antithetical to the way of Jesus,” Jennings said. “We must do all we can to protect the children whom Governor Abbott has targeted to advance his own political standing and, more broadly, to stop the wave of anti-transgender legislation sweeping across the United States.”

Abbott issued a letter on Feb. 22 citing a legal opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that certain medical treatments for transgender minors, such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and transition surgery, constitute child abuse. In response, Abbott’s letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services directed the state agency to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures.” He added that the state’s reporting requirements apply to “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse.”

The order has drawn nationwide condemnation this week from LGBTQ+ rights groups and supporters. They warn that such policies effectively criminalize transgender youths and their families and increase their risk of depression and suicide. The district attorneys of Texas’ five most populous counties have publicly rejected Abbott’s and Paxton’s claims of child abuse.

Doyle communicated directly to diocesan clergy in response to Abbott’s order, according to a diocesan spokeswoman. He also affirmed on Twitter that no one in the diocese’s churches or schools is required to report transgender children.

“Regardless of enforceability, Abbott and Paxton’s actions against trans youth politicizes people’s lives for gain,” Doyle tweeted. “Turning care givers and teachers into reporters is a fear tactic reminiscent of historic demonization and witch hunts. All people are worthy of love and belonging.”

Abbott’s latest actions come amid broader push by Republican elected officials to pass anti-transgender legislation nationwide. Since 2021, at least 21 state legislatures, including Texas, have introduced bills seeking to deny treatments that help transgender minors align their bodies with their gender identities, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles. Most of the bills propose criminalizing gender-affirming care.

About 150,000 individuals ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender in the United States, according to a brief prepared by the American Medical Association. Many of them suffer from gender dysphoria, defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a “conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.”

“Every major medical association in the United States recognizes the medical necessity of transition-related care for improving the physical and mental health of transgender people and has called for health insurance coverage for treatment of gender dysphoria,” the AMA said.

In her letter, Jennings noted that General Convention first expressed its support for legal protections for gay and lesbian citizens in 1976, and it extended its opposition to discrimination based on gender identity in a 2009 resolution. Executive Council also devoted one of its plenary sessions at its most recent meeting, in January, to listening to several transgender clergy members share their stories of struggling for acceptance within the church.

The group TransEpiscopal thanked Jennings and Doyle for speaking out. In a post on its website, the group said its members were appalled by Abbott’s actions in Texas.

Abbott’s letter “not only heaps further stigma upon trans youth and their families, but also raises the specter of community surveillance,” TransEpiscopal said. “This threat of splitting trans people and our families off from a wider sense of safety in community – or, worse, of separating trans youth from their supportive families – is precisely the opposite of what our families and communities need. …

“Trans young people and their families need our support and encouragement. They need upholding in community, to be lifted up, encouraged, and celebrated as the people they are and are becoming. Trans and nonbinary people are made in God’s image and called by God to embody the sacredness of who we are within the full gender spectrum of God’s creation.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.