As It Happens

Texas child welfare worker quits over order to investigate parents of transgender kids

When the governor of Texas issued a directive to childcare workers to investigate parents of transgender children, Morgan Davis thought he could be a force for good within the system. But after working on his first case, he quickly realized he had no choice but quit.

Morgan Davis, a transgender man, says he loves his job, but could no longer do it in good faith

Morgan Davis quit his job with Child Protective Services in Travis County, Texas, over a statewide directive that he believes will do more harm than good. (Submitted by Morgan Davis)

When the governor of Texas ordered childcare workers to investigate parents of transgender children, Morgan Davis thought he could be a force for good within the system.

But after working on his first case, the child welfare investigator quickly realized he had no choice but quit.

"Our directive is to protect children, and this seems to be doing the exact opposite," Davis, who is transgender, told As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins. 

"These are parents trying to give their child the best medical advice, the best medical direction possible, and we are saying: 'You are incorrect.' We are saying, 'I want to know who your therapist is. I want to know who your doctor is.'"

Davis is one of more than a dozen employees to leave the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services over Gov. Greg Abbott's directive, according to the Texas Tribune

The directive compels child welfare workers to investigate parents whose children have reportedly received gender-affirming medical care, like puberty blockers or hormones.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American College of Physicians, and more all endorse gender-affirming care for gender dysphoria — the distress someone can feel when their assigned sex doesn't align with their gender identity.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services did not respond to a request for comment.

His 'epiphany' moment 

When Abbott first issued the directive in February, Davis thought it was just a political stunt and that nobody would expect him to enforce it.

But within 24 hours, a case landed on his desk about the parents of a transgender teenager.

Despite his reservations, he decided to take it. He says he figured that as a transgender man, he could be a "friendly face" to a family in a tough situation.

"I thought, if somebody has to do this, I'm glad it's me," he said.

Adri Perez of the American Civil Liberties Union, centre, and other LGBTQ leaders speak outside the Travis County courthouse where a hearing was held to stop a Texas directive to investigate parents whose children receive gender-affirming medical care. (Erich Schlegel/The Associated Press/Human Rights Campaign)

But a conversation with the family's lawyer made him reconsider. 

"An attorney who I respect very highly said ... that it wasn't right what I was being asked to do," Davis said.

He says the lawyer told him that if a child, "even for a split second," thought that a transgender man supported Abbott's directive, it would do more harm than good.

"I got into this job because I wanted to be the advocate that I didn't have," Davis said. "But it was definitely an epiphany that what I was doing wasn't right."

The parents he was investigating, he said, appeared to be loving people doing their best for their child. In his report, Davis noted the teenager appeared healthy and well, and there were no signs of abuse.

Despite this, he said, the case remained open. 

The legal battle over transgender minors

Last year, Republicans in the Texas legislature attempted to pass a law changing the state's definition of child abuse to include providing gender-affirming care, but it failed to pass.

Then, in February, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion that any such medical care is considered child abuse under Texas law, and must be "halted" immediately.

"I'll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans," Paxton said. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said there is 'no doubt' that gender-affirming medical care for minors is 'child abuse.' (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Soon after, Abbott ordered the Department of Family and Protective Services to "conduct a prompt and thorough investigation" of any reported instances of minors undergoing "elective procedures for gender transitioning."

The directive also ordered all "licensed professionals who have direct contact with children" — including doctors, nurses and teachers — to report any such instances, or face "criminal penalties."

In March, a Texas appeals court temporarily blocked the directive pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents of a 16-year-old girl.

Both Paxton's legal opinion and Abbott's directive specifically cite surgeries, such as the removal of breasts or genital reconstruction, as a concern. But it's extremely rare for health-care providers to perform gender surgery on minors. Most medical associations, including the American Association of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, recommend surgery only for people who are of legal age. Davis says he's never heard of a teenager undergoing gender surgery in Texas.

Since the directive came down, several Texas health-care providers have halted gender-affirming care for teens, and the state's largest gender care program shut down.

'I'd love my job back, sir'

Davis says quitting wasn't an easy decision. He worries about the colleagues he's left behind, who he says are overburdened after more than a dozen people left the department in protest.

Because of that, he says kids in Texas aren't getting the help they need.

"The issues are so big and that's why you hate to leave," he said.

If the directive gets overturned in court, he says he'd go back to work in a second.

"I'd love my job back, sir," he told Seglins. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate McGillivray. 

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