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Families in Texas with transgender children say they're under attack

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In Texas, an appeals court has reinstated a temporary hold on state investigations into families with transgender children. The governor and attorney general have equated gender-affirming care for minors to child abuse. They ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to start investigating families with trans children. And that was before the courts intervened. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports on how one Texas family took their fight public.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL SCRATCHING)

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's 6:15 on a Thursday evening in Denton, Texas. And Adam Briggle is at the stove, preparing dinner for the family.

ADAM BRIGGLE: My kids have to suffer through what we call dad dinners. So tonight is cheese ravioli and bread sticks out of a box and broccoli.

GOODWYN: When he's not preparing fine dining, Briggle is a university professor of philosophy, a loving husband and father of two children. His oldest, Grayson, is in eighth grade.

GRAYSON: I'm playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by the Beatles.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES SONG, "WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS")

GOODWYN: Grayson is the kind of kid that moves you to quietly remind yourself not to feel insecure. He's just 14, an A student, a talented gymnast. After seeing "Kung Fu Panda," he got his second-degree black belt in taekwondo, plays cello in the orchestra. And when he gets home, he likes to play the ukulele to entertain himself before dinner. And he's got a lot of good friends.

GRAYSON: We stay up, like, all night at sleepovers. I usually am the first one to go to sleep because I think they're all crazy just staying up late and then not sleeping at all. Like, I try to at least get a little bit of sleep at sleepovers.

GOODWYN: Grayson's mother is usually the public face of the family's battle with the state of Texas over the fact that Grayson is receiving gender-affirming care. But with the state's decision to use the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate their family, Adam Briggle has joined his wife on the front lines.

ADAM BRIGGLE: She's the forward-leaning one publicly. And I'm there for the kids on the day-to-day level when she has to maybe be out there fighting for their political rights. Now it's sort of all hands on deck. I'm sitting here talking to you. What's sinking in? The fact that there is a minority of people who are full of ignorance and hate that is knocking on our door.

GOODWYN: Amber Briggle, who owns her own small business with more than two-dozen employees, has publicly fought for her son, Grayson, for years, refusing to hide. In fact, in 2016, when Grayson was in third grade, she successfully invited Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife to their house for dinner. She wanted them to see and experience the Briggle family for themselves.

AMBER BRIGGLE: You know, Mrs. Paxton brought a freshly baked dessert that was still warm from her oven because they just live one county over, which makes us neighbors by Texas standards, right? They were lovely. They watched us engage with our children. Mr. Paxton and my son exchanged magic tricks. Mrs. Paxton told a funny joke about talking muffins, you know? It was like - it was just a very wholesome, sweet dinner. And they drove away. And my husband and I were like, we did it. (Laughter) Like, problem solved. Mission accomplished. We were so proud of ourselves, you know? Like, no one got food poisoning. And everything went great. And, you know - and he drove away, you know, actually, under a rainbow. There was a rainbow that evening. We thought, well, this is fantastic.

GOODWYN: And in that moment, perhaps, it was. Since the age of 3, Grayson insisted he was a boy. By the age of 6, just after he started first grade, his mother had to make a decision. So Amber Briggle asked her 6-year-old, who'd long been wearing boys' clothes and short hair, are you my son? The child looked at her and quietly said, yes. And so families, teachers, friends' parents, their minister, everyone was briefed. And it turned out not to be that big of a deal, even in conservative Denton, Texas. Everyone liked Grayson. But as Grayson has grown, the Texas Republican Party has steadily moved to the right. And at the end of February, with the Texas primary election on the horizon, the governor issued a statement that gender-affirming care should be considered child abuse. And soon after, Texas Child Protective Services began investigating the Briggle family.

AMBER BRIGGLE: So I get to the office on Monday. And I'm ready to crank out some payroll because the next day is the first. And I'm responsible for paying, you know, 25 people on my team. And I see this sticky note with a name and number and a message that says urgent, private. And I pick it up. And I give her a call. And I say, hello. My name is Amber. And I'm - you know, got this message from you. And she cut me off. And she said, my name is so-and-so. I'm with CPS. And I'm 30 minutes away.

GOODWYN: Briggle told the Child Protective Services agent she wouldn't talk without a lawyer. That didn't matter one bit. The agent was on her way.

AMBER BRIGGLE: And so I get off the phone. And I, like, run down the hall. And I found my assistant. And I just threw myself in her arms. And, I mean, she's tiny, you know? She was physically holding me up. And she said, what's wrong? And I said, it's finally happening. I said, CPS is on their way. And they're going to take my babies away from me. And I'm so scared. And she held me tighter. And she started crying, too. And then I just fell to the floor. I just collapsed.

GOODWYN: NPR reached out to the governor and attorney general's offices to seek comment, but did not receive a response. But on March 11, in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Lambda Legal, State District Judge Amy Clark Meachum temporarily stopped Texas from using Child Protective Services to investigate families with trans children. The judge ruled Governor Greg Abbott's actions were, quote, "beyond the scope of his authority and unconstitutional." Later that same day, Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted, I'm appealing. I'll win this fight to protect our Texas children. The state's determination to treat families with transgender children as possible child abusers has generated panic and fury. Again, Amber Briggle.

AMBER BRIGGLE: I'm not in a good place now. I'm worried. I'm angry. I'm angry that so much of my - like, I have better things to do than to be the target of someone's political ambitions, right? I have better things to do than be picked on by Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton.

GOODWYN: Can Texas take transgender children away from their parents because the parents behave as their child's ally? The legal issue will be argued in July.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAKE SHIMABUKURO'S "WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.