SAN FRANCISCO (KXAN) — A directive issued earlier this year by Gov. Greg Abbott for the state to start investigating families with transgender children for abuse created a new legislative priority far outside Texas.
State legislators in California are now working to pass a bill before their session ends on Aug. 31 that would essentially create a refuge for families to seek and receive the transgender health care that could get them investigated for child abuse in Texas. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill in January and said he crafted the protections included in it as a direct response to Abbott’s action.
Abbott asserted in his February order that it should be considered abuse for a child to undergo a gender transitioning surgery or to take puberty-blocking drugs, citing a legal opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted gender-affirming care for trans children can range from getting a haircut or wearing different clothing to using certain hormones to pause pubertal development. The federal government also pointed out surgery is typically used for adults and on a case-by-case basis for adolescents.
The legislation put forward by Wiener classifies gender-affirming care as anything medically necessary that respects the gender identity of the patient.
“I’ll be honest with you: I have a lot of different legislative priorities around housing and clean energy and access to food,” Wiener said during an interview Monday. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have to introduce this kind of legislation to basically try to shelter and give refuge to trans kids and their families because of persecution in their home states. I just didn’t think it would come to this, and it’s tragic.”
He said Senate Bill 107 would provide safeguards against the enforcement of out-of-state laws to protect people seeking and providing gender-affirming care in California. For instance, the bill would limit California courts from enforcing subpoenas issued by another state’s court that seek documents or records about gender-affirming medical care. Additionally, law enforcement agencies in California would have to make it their lowest priority to carry out any arrest warrants or extradition requests related to another state’s law against receiving or allowing a child to get transgender care.
“It’s not perfect or the perfect, airtight bubble,” Wiener said, “but we’re doing what we can to signal to these families that they are full human beings; their kids are full human beings; and that we love and honor them.”
KXAN reached out Monday afternoon to the governor’s office for reaction about this proposal moving forward in California and will update when we receive a comment.
Wiener also said the goal of this legislation is not to encourage more people to move to California. However, several Texas families with trans kids have either already left the state or plan to go soon. A realtor based in Dallas also launched an online tool called Flee Texas in May to help LGBTQ Texans list their homes here and connect with a friendly agent in another state where they’d like to move.
“We don’t want them to have to leave their home states, let’s be clear,” Wiener said. “That is incredibly traumatic for any family to have to pull up roots and move and start a new life. No one should have to do that, but if they feel the need and if they feel unsafe, they can come here.”
The California State Assembly, which is the equivalent of the Texas House of Representatives, already passed the bill out of committee, and now it awaits a full floor vote. Wiener said he expects that to happen either later this week or early next week. If it passes there, that would kick the bill over to the California State Senate, which would also have to hold one or two hearings before a full vote. Wiener said he’s optimistic about the legislation’s chances to make it to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk before the end of the month.
KXAN checked in Monday with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, or DFPS, to find out how many active child abuse investigations there are related to families with trans kids as well as the number of those cases that have either been cleared or led to some consequences, such as the removal of a child. An agency spokesperson asked us to submit an open records request, so this story will be updated once DFPS reviews the request and discloses that information.
During the 2021 legislative session, an effort to ban gender-affirming care in Texas failed to pass. However, Gov. Abbott ended up signing a bill requiring Texas public school athletes to play sports based on their biological sex at birth. That law went into effect in January. At least 18 states have now approved similar legislation banning trans athletes from participating in sports, according to the LGBTQ advocacy organization Athlete Ally.
LGBTQ advocates in Texas are now concerned about what the next legislative session could bring in 2023. Some said they’re worried the Republican-controlled legislature will work to codify the governor’s child abuse directive into law. They also point to the platform adopted this summer by the Republican Party of Texas, which included labeling homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and opposing “all efforts to validate transgender identity.” A few delegates at the GOP convention opposed the inclusion of this language, but the planks still managed to pass.
Wiener said he’s also working with the LGBTQ Victory Fund to create a coalition of elected leaders in other states who plan to bring up legislation similar to his bill. He said he thinks this will help counter restrictions related to the trans community that are either considered or ultimately approved.
“These parents are doing exactly what they should be doing. They’re accepting their kids for who they are. They’re supporting their kids. They’re not rejecting their kids,” Wiener said. “That’s a beautiful thing, and that’s why it’s so tragic that the state is doing this. We want to send a message to those families that we’re there for you.”