AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday that prohibits state child-abuse investigations into a group of families that are allowing doctors to prescribe gender-affirming medical care to their transgender adolescents.
State District Judge Jan Soifer of Travis County halted investigations for 14 days before the next step, a hearing on whether a longer-lasting injunction should be issued against the state Department of Family and Protective Services.
Soifer’s order came in response to a lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of PFLAG, a group founded in 1973, and three Texas families with transgender children. PFLAG has claimed to be the first and largest advocacy organization for LGBTQ people and their families with more than 250,000 members.
Under the terms of the judge’s order, investigations into the three families must stop, and other families can halt investigations by notifying Child Protective Services that they are members of PFLAG, according to Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Texas, which filed the lawsuit.
“PFLAG is a membership organization with a large presence in Texas and the issues involved are particularly germane to its mission to support the parents and families of LGBTQ youth,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, at attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a statement to USA TODAY.
PFLAG has 17 chapters in Texas, according to the organization.
“We are relieved that – at least for now – the threat of a child abuse investigation is no longer hanging over the heads of PFLAG families here in Texas,” Paul Castillo, Lambda Legal senior counsel, said in a statement.
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The lawsuit challenges a February directive from Gov. Greg Abbott that ordered the state’s child-welfare agency to investigate reports of gender-affirming medical care as child abuse.
The challenge followed an earlier lawsuit that resulted in a different Travis County judge issuing an injunction blocking the abuse investigations. However, an appeal by the state resulted in a split decision by the Texas Supreme Court, which, last month, kept the injunction in place only for the one family that sued but allowed other investigations to resume if child welfare investigators are presented with a case alleging actual child abuse, not Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion regarding child abuse.
In an opinion siding with the majority of the court, Senior Justice Debra Lehrmann said Texas Department of Family and Protective Services rules prohibit the department from investigating reports where the “only grounds” for the purported abuse are facilitation or provision of gender-affirming medical treatment.
The Texas Supreme Court decision showed justices oppose enforcement of the directive from Abbott and Paxton, said Stephen Sheppard, former dean of St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio.
“Every member of the Texas Supreme Court has demonstrated a very intense scrutiny of the procedure sought by the Texas Attorney General,” Sheppard said. “None of them seem happy with the Texas Attorney General for a variety of reasons, and those reasons have generated different opinions.”
This week’s lawsuit came after child abuse investigations resumed into several families that sought medical care to help adolescents deal with gender dysphoria, the distress caused when a person’s physical characteristics don’t match their gender identity.
Brian Bond, executive director of PFLAG National, praised Soifer for protecting the families who sued and every other Texas member of his organization.
“That families will be protected from invasive, unnecessary and unnerving investigations by DFPS simply for helping their transgender children thrive and be themselves is a very good thing,” Bond said. “However, let’s be clear – these investigations into loving and affirming families shouldn’t be happening in the first place.”
Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, also celebrated the judge’s temporary restraining order.
“This is now the sixth time in recent months a Texas court has ruled in favor of transgender youth and their loving, supportive families,” Pérez said in a statement, calling it “senseless” for the state to continue “pushing forward these baseless investigations” and criticizing Paxton for “wasting state resources by filing reckless appeals in his campaign to target transgender Texans.”