- Texas lawmakers have proposed numerous bills, challenging transgender kids’ rights to healthcare and their parents from being able to provide it.
- Amber Briggle is a mother to a transgender boy who has protested a directive from Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
- Amber Briggle and her husband were investigated for ‘child abuse’ for providing gender-affirming care for their teenage son.
When Amber Briggle’s toddler, who was assigned female at birth, was just 2 years old and beginning to put together sentences, her child started telling her that they were a boy. However, Amber who was a first time-mom now relates that she had no idea then, what her child was saying. She didn’t comprehend that her toddler was trying to tell her, who he truly was. “I didn’t even know the word ‘transgender,’ and I certainly didn’t know that that was a thing that a child could experience,” the Texas mother tells HollywoodLife.com in an exclusive interview.
Fast forward to today, and Amber, 45, and her husband, Adam, 46, have become outspoken advocates for the rights of trans children and adults in Texas, to live fully authentic lives, with the same rights as every other person in Texas.
Their campaign to enable their son, Grayson, now 15, to thrive as his athletic, top student self and for their cisgender daughter Mae, almost 11, to live without fear of losing her brother to authorities, has made them targets of Texas’s right-wing Republican Governor Greg Abbott.
Amber, the owner of a massage therapist business, and Adam, a tenured professor, who have been married for 22 years, could never have imagined when their toddler screamed every time he was put into a sundress, that one day their family would be investigated for child abuse, simply because they were raising their trans son in a totally supportive way, but that’s exactly what happened after Governor Greg Abbott and his Attorney General Ken Paxton went on a full-scale attack against trans children in Texas in 2021, on the pretense that they were ‘protecting’ children from supposedly harmful treatment.
Amber recalls that at first the Texas anti-transgender laws proposed by the State Legislature and Governor Abbott several years ago appeared to get no traction. A 2017 bill that would have forced trans people to use the public bathrooms of the sex they were assigned at birth, died quickly, but then in 2021, the anti-trans bills started coming fast and furious. Now in, 2023 so far, 141 bills targeting trans youth and trans adults, have already been filed in Texas, reports Shelly Skeen, a Senior Texas-based Attorney for Lambda Legal, the largest national legal organization fighting for civil rights for LGBTQ people.
And the Briggle family were shocked to find themselves at the center of a child abuse investigation after the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a “non-binding” opinion, stating that performing certain “sex-change” procedures on children and prescribing puberty blockers for them, is “child abuse” under Texas law.
Once that opinion was publicly released, Governor Abbott issued a directive in February 2022 to the State’s 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.
He also urged “licensed professionals” and members of the “general public to report parents of trans kids and teens to state authorities if it looked like their children were receiving gender-affirming medical care.” Abbott went even further and warned that professionals who work with children like teachers, doctors, and nurses could face criminal penalties for “failure to report such child abuse.”
Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton made these directives and assertions despite the fact that neither is a doctor nor has any expert background on transgender healthcare and despite the fact that gender-affirming care for trans teens has long been recommended as in their best interest by the renowned American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. As well, gender-affirming surgeries performed in the U.S. on people under the age of 18, are rarely performed, according to The Washington Post.
Nevertheless, within a few days of Abbott’s announcement, Amber Briggle recalls that she had a DFPS (Department of Family and Protective Services) caseworker “in my home, interrogating my kids. I had to line up lawyers for all of us. It was terrifying.”
The investigation into her and Adam for child abuse lasted an agonizing 100 days despite the fact that Amber says, “As the caseworker was leaving our house, they looked my husband and I in the eye, and said, ‘Clearly, you’re doing something right. You have wonderful children.'”
And, suspiciously and coincidentally, the Briggles child abuse case was only closed on the morning that she and Adam filed a lawsuit against Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Family Protective Services over the “illegal investigation.”
“This has harmed my family deeply, and is illegal and unconstitutional,” she asserts to Hollywoodlife.com. Lambda Legal’s Shelly Skeen agrees with Amber that the laws targeting healthcare for trans youth and preventing parents from raising their children as they see fit, are “unconstitutional.”
“These laws violate equal protection, due process, and a parents’ right to raise their kids as they see fit. The equal protection clause and due process clause are in the 14th Amendment and they provide two different bases under which you can attack a law as unconstitutional. Due process says you can’t deprive someone of a fundamental right to make decisions about their bodies,” Skeen says.
Amber, with her ‘rights’ in mind, courageously fought back legally with PFLAG, the largest organization dedicated to supporting and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families, against Abbott and won a statewide injunction for PFLAG member families. The injunction prevented parents and families of trans kids and teens from being investigated for child abuse, solely on the accusation that their child is transgender.
Amber has no hesitation admitting that it has been stressful and frightening for her husband and kids to undergo a child abuse investigation by the state of Texas. “It’s been really hard,” she says. “I think it’s harder on Adam and me than it has been on the kids, and that’s intentional,” she explains. “We just want them to be kids and on a day-to-day basis, kids don’t think about this nearly to the degree that Adam and I do, which is good.”
She divulges that her daughter Mae, 10, “my cisgender child, is the more sensitive one, and she’s, I think, really struggling with this a lot more. She is afraid that someone’s going to take her big brother away, that someone’s going to take her away, and that her mom and dad are going to be locked up. She doesn’t talk about it often, but she talks about it enough, and she’s also showing signs of severe anxiety and depression, because of it. It’s not just the trans kids that [a child abuse investigation] affects, it affects everyone who loves them. Adam and I are in therapy, and it affects our finances in legal bills to fight DFPS.”
Fortunately, Amber says that Grayson has remained “sunny and calm” while there’s been a swirling mess around him. “He’s just chill. He’s grounded. He just shows up every day radiating trans joy, and that’s how he fights back. He just shows up every day as his full authentic self and wins all the blue ribbons of life.”
It’s ironic that it was only before Amber and Adam recognized that their firstborn child was in fact a boy, that Grayson was not his ‘authentic’ confident self. She recalls that by the time Grayson started kindergarten, he was very much presenting as a boy, but his parents thought it was a tomboy phase. However, it wasn’t until the couple realized that their child was struggling—not eating and losing weight—when he was in first grade that they really started to do research about what might be going on with them. Amber does remember that one day her child asked her, “Mom, do you think scientists can turn me into a boy?”
Then a friend of hers at church who was trans told her his story and started sending her articles to read. “It got me thinking about what it meant to be a good parent to a trans child. Shouldn’t we let him be himself?”
It was before his 7th birthday that as Amber was putting her child to bed one night that she asked him, “Baby, do you want me to call you a boy and not a girl, and he nodded yes, like I’ve been trying to tell you that my whole life. I tucked him in and told him, ‘I’ll love you whoever you are.'”
Amber relates that as soon as his parents acknowledged who he was, their son became his outgoing, confident articulate self again. “He had been fading before that, and he just exploded. It was awesome.”
Trying to navigate their way—”we felt like we were the first parents of a trans child on the planet”—the Briggles met with the principal of their son’s school and the teachers and told them about his true identity and his new name—he wanted to be called by his initials. “And the school was awesome about supporting him,” she says.
“Meanwhile, Grayson told his friends his new name, and they all wanted initials for their names too, and then they said, ‘Okay’ and went back to playing,” Amber remembers.
Amber says that today her son is thriving academically and socially. “He is supported in all aspects of his life. All children should be supported in all aspects of their lives,” she asserts.
Yet, the Texas Legislature has now passed a bill making it illegal for the parents of trans young people to support them by providing the medically necessary healthcare that they need. It’s set to go into effect on September 1, if Governor Greg Abbott signs it, which is likely given his record on this issue. Texas now is one of the numerous GOP-led states that have banned or are in the process of banning healthcare for transgender adolescents in their states this year.
Arkansas, Florida, Utah, Tennessee, Idaho, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and more have already enacted bans. Democratic lawmakers are still fighting one in Nebraska, and Republican Montana Governor Greg Gianforte just signed a ban despite the heroic efforts of Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman. It’s a Republican campaign that has been orchestrated by the American Principles Project, a social conservative advocacy group, according to The New York Times. The organization conducted research to determine whether curbing transgender rights would resonate with voters, Terry Schilling, its president told The Times. They found that it did.
After the Texas Legislature passed the bill which would enact a ban , the ACLU and Lambda Legal released a joint statement, vowing to keep fighting for trans rights. “We will be filing a lawsuit to protect transgender youth in Texas from being stripped of access to health care that keeps them healthy and alive. Coming on top of the effort last year to classify providing medically necessary and scientifically proven care to transgender youth as child abuse and threatening to tear Texas families with transgender children apart, an effort currently blocked in state court, Texas lawmakers have seen fit to double down,” they said in statement.
So parents of trans kids in these “red” states are now being banned from providing the healthcare that is in the best interests of their kids, and trans youth are at extremely high risk of suicide, according to research on 34,000 LGBTQ youth in the U.S.in 2022 by The Trevor Project
Fifty-nine percent of trans boys considered suicide in the past year, and 22 percent attempted it. Forty-eight percent of trans girls considered it, and 12 percent tried it. As well, 69 percent of trans boys experienced depression, as did 60 percent of trans girls. Ninety-three percent of trans and non-binary youth reported that they are worried about being denied access to gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws. (The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.)
It’s not surprising that Amber implores, “We’re fighting for our kids’ lives down here, and people cannot be writing off red states as being backward. We need the nation to fight with us.
Despite all these legislative efforts to target trans kids, their parents, and medical providers in red states, as if their healthcare is one of the most urgent issues for the American public like drag queen shows – instead of inflation, gun violence, or climate – they make up a tiny segment of the population. There are only 29,800 13-17-year-olds who identify as trans in Texas. Just 0.71 percent of the population. There are only 92,900 transgender adults in Texas out of a total population of almost 30 million. And yet, there have been these 141 bills introduced to limit their rights in the state.
The bill that the Texas Legislature sent to the governor to sign – SB14 – which would ban healthcare for trans youth passed despite efforts by Democrats to block it.
The law will punish any doctor who violates the healthcare ban by revoking their medical license. Plus, no doctor who has provided that trans healthcare in another state can now be admitted to practice in Texas. Pharmacists will also be banned from dispensing gender-affirming drugs to trans adolescents under 18.
A fearful Amber entreats parents of all cisgender children in Texas to realize that if the state can “come after” her parental rights “I am a white, college-educated, property-owning, God-fearing Texan married to a white, educated, middle-class man, then they will absolutely come after yours next if they haven’t already. People need to understand that we have to all fight against this.”
She is understandably furious that her child is being victimized by Republican politicians because they see it as “a winning issue.” “Republicans can never ever receive forgiveness for what they are doing to these vulnerable children and history will not be kind to them.”
She is also fed up with their book bans, attacks on drag queens, and their refusal to focus on the dangers of guns. “They spend more time focusing on the dangers of drag queens than on guns.”
Nevertheless, for now, she and her family are staying put in Northeast Texas, where Grayson is still thriving at a supportive school with lots of friends. It is difficult for her to leave her successful business and for her husband to abandon his tenured professorship. For now, she is determined to stay in Texas and fight on behalf of all families with trans kids. “It’s un-American to have rights for some Americans but not all. Just because we live in Texas doesn’t mean that our rights or Grayson’s should matter less than someone who lives in Oregon or California.”
And she doesn’t want their family to be “displaced.” But that doesn’t mean that she and Adam don’t already have a plan in place if they have to leave, even quickly. “Every single family with a transgender child that I know living in Texas has an escape plan. Some have already left and some are waiting for a different line to get crossed. Once it does, they know how to execute that plan,” relates Amber as the the ban on gender-affirming care looms over her family’s head. “We haven’t crossed that line yet for us, but when that line gets crossed, we know exactly where we’ll go.”
To learn more about how you can join the fight to support families like the Briggles and other families in Texas and across the country, or donate, please go to: https://lambdalegal.org/.Click to Subscribe to Get Our Free HollywoodLife Daily Newsletter to get the hottest celeb news.