In a Feb. 22 letter to the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Gov. Greg Abbott called for the anti-trans investigation and disclosure of transgender children.

The initiative, originally proposed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, labeled a number of gender-affirming procedures as child abuse. It also stated that licensed professionals, parents and members of the general public would be required to report these instances or face criminal penalties.  

“It’s kind of a gut punch,” says Jess Herbst, former mayor of New Hope in Collin County and Texas’s first openly transgender mayor. “He’s damaging children. You know, it’s one thing to go after adults, it’s another to go after children. It’s just heart wrenching.”

Herbst is aware of the irony in calling gender-affirming care child abuse. As a 63-year-old transgender woman, Herbst grew up in the 1960s when gender-affirming care was illegal. 

“As a child, I was sent to a psychiatrist and his solution was to beat me until I stopped feeling this way,” Herbst says. “This is the type of thing that Greg Abbott is wanting to impose on our children. We know that treating gender dysphoria properly saves lives. Abbott may as well say, ‘Okay, I’ve decided that it’s child abuse to put a child in a car seat.’ How well would that go?” 

jess herbst speaks out on texas governor greg abbott's anti-trans order.
Jess Herbst speaks out on Texas governor Greg Abbott’s anti-trans order.

Despite the fear that Abbott’s letter may cause in parents of transgender children, it’s important to note that the letter holds no legal weight. The state government has no authority to actually enforce these investigations.  

“It’s a backdoor, cigar room way of saying, ‘Hey, I know what we’ll do. We’ll just tell all the prosecuting attorneys that they can prosecute in this way,’” Herbst says. “It’s just legal guidance between the Attorney General and the district attorneys who would prosecute these cases.”

And several district attorneys – including those from Dallas, Travis, Bexar, Nueces and Fort Bend County – have already pushed back in a public letter to their constituents. 

“We will not allow the Governor and Attorney General to disregard Texan children’s lives in order to score political points,” the letter states. “We have a choice: we can launch politically motivated attacks, or we can lift up and protect communities. We are proud to do the latter.” 

So why did Paxton and Abbott draft this letter in the first place?

Every legislative session, conservative lawmakers attempt to pass anti-trans legislation, but are countered by testimonies from parents of transgender children.

“This seems to me like an underhanded loophole way of preventing those parents from coming and testifying at the next session. He doesn’t want to see them there. He always loses to them. So now he’s going to try scare tactics to keep them away,” Herbst says.

Herbst suggests that the biggest way to supporting the LGBTQ+ community is by remaining politically active. Vote in November’s general election. Write to your congressman, or even to Gov. Abbott and Ken Paxton, to “flood their offices.”

“Let them know that you don’t support this. They are doing this for political power. They’re doing this because they feel that’s what their base wants,” Herbst says. “And the only way they’re ever really going to stop this is if they find out that their base is not supportive. Enough Texans have to stand up and say we’ve had enough.”

Vaibhavi Hemasundar is an undergraduate at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She loves singing, film photography, and devouring book after book.