Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week directed the state’s Department of Family Protective Services to investigate gender-affirming health care as “child abuse” and the parents of children who receive such care as perpetrating it. The directive, which was met with alarm by LGBTQ groups, was applauded by Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project, who took credit for Abbott’s directive on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast last Thursday and thanked the War Room for aiding its pressure campaign on Abbott.
“We put together a $750,000 grassroots advocacy campaign with the War Room support, and we put pressure on him right before the election,” Schilling said. “It wasn’t a coincidence that he did this. And Abbott basically instructed all of his state agencies to treat this as child abuse, and it’s now criminal to do this.”
Abbott, a champion of the conservative movement, has been accused of not being right wing enough by the Republican Party’s extreme fringes. Such attacks escalated ahead of Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary, which Abbott easily won.
In Schilling’s telling, Abbott has been insufficiently harsh on the LGBTQ community. Under Schilling’s leadership, APP—a religious-right organization that has made discriminating against trans kids its main endeavor—launched a Texas state chapter last year and targeted Abbott and other Republicans for not going far enough with the anti-trans legislation they passed. In February, APP released two ads attacking Abbott for failing to “protect our children.”
“Gov. Greg Abbott promised to protect our children from dangerous sex-change procedures and hormone therapies,” a voice narrates in one ad released Feb. 4. “Given the opportunity to protect Texas children, Greg Abbott chose not to bring up legislation.”
The legislation in question was an extreme bill from the Texas state legislature that would have criminalized gender-affirming health care for youth, redefining “child abuse” to include puberty suppression drugs, hormone replacement therapy, or surgical or medical procedures “for gender transitioning purposes.” (It’s worth noting that trans youth rarely, if ever, undergo surgery, and medical professionals say puberty blockers, which provide trans youth time to better understand their identity, are reversible.)
On Bannon’s podcast, Schilling accused Abbott of using “all of these backroom legislative maneuvers to keep it from getting a vote.”
However, when the state legislature did not pass that bill, Abbott asked his attorney general, Ken Paxton, to determine whether such gender-affirming health care could be considered “child abuse” under current Texas state law. Paxton issued an opinion on Feb. 18 that such care constitutes as “child abuse.”
Four days later, Abbott issued the directive to investigate gender-affirming care as “child abuse.” The order also called on teachers, doctors, and other professionals to report to child and protection services parents who provide their kids gender-affirming care, adding that there would be consequences for those who don’t report.
Schilling called the directive a “victory for the War Room posse,” and he applauded Paxton, who was a guest earlier in the program, for his opinion.
“It doesn’t happen without two things: It doesn’t happen without Ken Paxton and his leadership and what he came out with; and it also doesn’t happen without the War Room posse and everything they’re doing to help us really make this pro-family movement more muscular,” Schilling said.
Bannon, however, remained dissatisfied with Abbott’s directive. “You gotta get the law passed,” he said. “What does the cadre need to do to have your back and the folks down in Texas to get this on the books as a law?”
“So the first thing we have to do is we have to help Gov. Abbott and AG Paxton enforce the law,” Schilling said. “And what I mean by that is we have to start making reports when we find out about something bad happening to kids when it comes to gender transition. I don’t care if it’s top surgery where they’re doing mastectomy to healthy young girls or even just the counseling. We have to start making reports because it is child abuse. These guys can’t enforce the law and criminalize bad guys if they don’t know when and where and who is doing it.”
“Number two is you have to hold your politicians accountable, and you have to demand that they pass this,” Schilling said. “Abbott actually could call a special session in order to pass this legislation.
“We’ve got to force this,” Bannon said, urging his listeners to call on Abbott to call for a special session.
This isn’t the first time that Bannon and Schilling have teamed up to attack trans youth. Schilling’s group, APP, is also a member of A Promise to America’s Children, a coalition of right-wing and religious-right groups that formed last year to oppose so-called “gender ideology.” In reality, the coalition targeted trans youth through model legislation and misinformation. Pulling a page from religious-right attacks on gay men, these groups have fearmongered about trans people, claiming they need to “protect kids.”
Instead, these attacks have devastating effects on trans youth. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, saw a 150 percent increase in crisis calls and messages in Texas between 2020 and 2021 when the state considered dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills. The group condemned Abbott’s directive, stating, “Access to gender-affirming medical care, like gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT), has been found to be significantly linked to lower rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among transgender and nonbinary youth.” Major medical organizations, including American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Medical Association, also support gender-affirming medical treatment.
Although LGBTQ groups say Abbott’s directive is unlikely to hold up in court, many see the directive as a political move made before both Paxton and Abbott’s primary elections. Speaking about the legislative attacks on trans youth last spring, LGBTQ writer and author Charlotte Clymer told Right Wing Watch, “For about a decade now, Republicans, specifically social conservatives, have been looking for a way to weaponize transphobia for elections.”