Texas Governor Greg Abbott touched off yet another firestorm of criticism from human rights advocates last month, when he issued a directive that slaps the label of child abuse on gender-affirming medical care for minors. In response, more than 60 leading businesses publicly joined the protest against the new directive targeting transgender rights. That is an important step in the right direction, but it will accomplish nothing unless businesses flex their financial power, too.
Texas is just one among many states in which elected officials have rushed to pass new laws aimed at denying transgender rights. However, the media spotlight has been glued to Texas in recent weeks because the Abbot directive appears to be a clear case of extra-legal, authoritarian-style overreach.
As tracked by the organization Equality Texas, more than 30 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in the state’s most recent legislative session, including 13 “direct attacks” on transgender youth. None of them made it to the Governor’s desk. The new directive indicates that Abbot felt compelled to deliver at least one achievement to his voters in an election year, one way or another.
Specifically, Senate Bill 1646 in the Texas legislature would have added gender affirming medical treatment for minors to the list of legally defined forms of child abuse, triggering an investigation by the state and potentially leading to severe consequences for care givers and medical providers.
After SB 1646 failed to pass, Abbott reportedly asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to render a formal opinion on the matter. Paxton filed his determination as No. KP-0401, in the form of a letter to State Representative Matt Krause (R-District 93) as Chair of the House Committee on General Investigating.
In the letter, Paxton creates a false equivalency between gender affirming care and sterilization policies that have been “historically weaponized against minorities,” including “African Americans, female minors, the disabled, and others,” using the words “irreversible sterilization” and “sterilization” multiple times throughout.
Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.
Given the false starting point of forced sterilization, it is no surprise that Paxton arrived at a conclusion that effectively criminalizes gender affirming medical care for minors.
“Each of the ‘sex change’ procedures and treatments enumerated above, when performed on children, can legally constitute child abuse under several provisions of chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code,” Paxton wrote.
“When considering questions of child abuse, a court would likely consider the fundamental right to procreation, issues of physical and emotional harm associated with these procedures and treatments, consent laws in Texas and throughout the country, and existing child abuse standards,” he emphasized (emphasis added).
With KP 0104 in hand, Abbott then issued his directive in the form of a letter to Jaime Masters, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
In the letter, Abbott informs Masters that the Attorney General has confirmed “that a number of so-called ‘sex change’ procedures constitute child abuse under existing Texas law.”
The letter is a textbook example of a circular argument surrounding transgender rights, building from one false foundation to the next before ordering the Commissioner to “protect Texas children from abuse” and “follow the law as explained in OAG Opinion No. KP-0401.”
Business leaders have been slow to organize a response to the anti-LGBTQ laws in the Texas legislature and elsewhere, until the organization Human Rights Campaign assembled a platform of public protest. On March 2, HRC released an open letter protesting anti-LGBTQ legislation in statehouses across the country, signed by thousands of parents and other individuals.
In a press release explaining the letter, HRC also underscored the science-based position of health care experts.
“The experts have spoken — and they make clear that affirming and supporting LGBTQ+ youth is essential for optimal health and wellbeing. Period.” HRC wrote.
That letter set the stage for business leaders to weigh in against the Abbot directive. On March 11, HRC released a letter of protest signed by more than 60 leading businesses.
Published as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News, the letter lists Apple, Capital One, Google, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce and Unilever, among scores of other supporters.
Rather than simply criticizing the Abbott directive as a general matter of human and civil rights for transgender families, the letter positions transgender rights as a fundamental matter of corporate culture.
“The recent attempt to criminalize a parent for helping their transgender child access medically necessary, age appropriate healthcare in the state of Texas goes against the values of our companies,” they state.
“We are committed to building inclusive environments where our employees can thrive inside and outside of the workplace,” the letter adds. “For years we have stood to ensure LGBTQ+ people — our employees, customers, and their families — are safe and welcomed in the communities where we do business.”
“This policy creates fear for employees and their families, especially those with transgender children, who might now be faced with choosing to provide the best possible medical care for their children but risk having those children removed by child protective services for doing so,” the letter’s signatories continued.
The letter also draws attention to other attacks on transgender rights across the nation and calls upon elected officials to “abandon efforts to write discrimination into law and policy.”
“It’s not just wrong, it has an impact on our employees, our customers, their families, and our work,” the letter emphasizes.
The strength of the letter seems to have caught the media spotlight, and it lends force to an effort by HRC to organize business in support of federal legislation in support of LGBTQ rights.
Meanwhile, though, business leaders have to reckon with the fact that their nonpartisan get-out-the-vote initiatives did nothing to prevent former President Trump and his extremist allies from steering the Republican party into an almost-successful, violent insurrection followed by a torrent of state legislation aimed at suppressing Democratic-leaning voters, concurrent with the focus on eliminating transgender rights.
Fortunately for transgender children in Texas, last Friday a state judge issued a temporary stay of Abbott’s order. Attorney General Paxton promptly vowed to appeal the stay.
Whether the appeal is successful or not, Abbott’s naked attempt to use children as cannon fodder in his campaign for reelection has brought the conjunction of voter suppression and human rights oppression into clear relief.
Signing a letter of protest is a good first step for socially responsible corporations, but it is just the beginning of a long, hard fight to undo a generations-long spiral.
Business leaders can – and must – drop the pretense that encouraging people to vote is the beginning and end of their responsibility. They can make a real difference by focusing their corporate financial muscle in the service of candidates who fight for civil rights and human rights, as the twin forces that distinguish a functioning democracy from an authoritarian state.
Image credit: Mercedes Mehling via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.