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Texas families with trans kids are leaving the state

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Some Texas families with trans kids are leaving or are considering leaving the state. That's because Texas Governor Greg Abbott called parents who get their kids gender-affirming care child abusers and said they should be investigated. Houston Public Media's Sara Willa Ernst reports these families don't see a future in Texas.

BRIAN: Got both the bugs.

SARA WILLA ERNST, BYLINE: Mom, dad and the kids are huddled in their TV room in Austin. Eyes are glued to a video game. The dad, Brian, is managing the controller, but it's his kids who are the real brains of the operation.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Inaudible).

ERNST: Brian and his wife Susan are the parents of 5-year-old twins, including a transgender girl who started expressing gender variance at age 2.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Well, I think I like (inaudible) best.

ERNST: Their daughter has grown out her hair and changed her pronouns. She isn't old enough for puberty blockers, but Brian and Susan are still worried about getting reported to Child Protective Services, which is why they asked we only use their first names.

BRIAN: I don't want to leave. On the other hand, if we had to, I know we'd be OK. Yeah, it's just kind of crummy.

ERNST: Only in recent months, conversations about leaving Austin have become plans. That change happened in February when the governor and AG started calling gender-affirming care child abuse.

SUSAN: My worst fear had come true with no warning and no time buffer or anything.

ERNST: Fear describes most of the past year for Susan and Brian. They followed bills in the legislature that sought to criminalize gender-affirming care. Those ultimately failed, which led to the governor's directive months later. An injunction currently puts these investigations on hold, but Susan isn't hopeful.

SUSAN: I just can't picture a situation in which this doesn't get worse.

ERNST: Susan and Brian, who both work in education, are looking for jobs in states with stronger civil rights protections for trans people.

SUSAN: It never crossed my mind that we would go anywhere else, but I can't do that anymore.

ERNST: So now they're preparing to say goodbye to Texas.

SUSAN: I can't think ahead to a time when my kids are older. I can't imagine buying a home. I don't even feel comfortable taking a job here.

ERNST: Susan's heartbroken to leave her sister and the kids' grandparents. Moving elsewhere is on the table for many others, says Shelly Skeen with the LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal.

SHELLY SKEEN: I really can't think of any parent that I've talked to that hasn't considered this.

ERNST: But not all the 50 families her group is working with have the means to relocate.

SKEEN: Takes a pretty big toll on a family 'cause you're taking your kids out of school and you're bringing them to a completely different place. You've got to maintain an apartment. People just can't do that.

RACHEL: I definitely don't feel like I'm on the other side of it (laughter). I wish.

ERNST: Rachel, her husband and their three kids are from North Texas. She and the kids have just moved to Colorado. That's because one of the children is nonbinary and another is a trans teenager on hormone therapy - the kind of treatment the governor is targeting. And because of that, Rachel asked we only use her first name as well.

RACHEL: This time has been, like, a slow unraveling of stress.

ERNST: They're staying with family until they find a house. Her husband, who works in IT, is still back in Texas until he can relocate.

RACHEL: We still have so many things that are in transition - just feeling really paranoid about, you know, any connections that we have and how those could bite us.

ERNST: The difficulty of letting go is balanced by the welcome she feels in Colorado, such as gender-inclusive bathrooms at the school she's considering for her kids. She believes that now her family has a real shot at happy, healthy lives.

For NPR News, I'm Sara Willa Ernst in Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF BETA RADIO'S "HERE TOO FAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sara Ernst is the multimedia intern at Nashville Public Radio during spring 2018.
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