President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to enhance protections for transgender children and take steps to ban conversion therapy as efforts continue in Texas and other states to restrict gender-affirming medical care.
The executive order calls on the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to increase access to gender-affirming care and develop ways to counter state efforts aimed at limiting such treatments for transgender minors.
Biden signed the order Wednesday afternoon, joined by six LGBTQ teens who were reportedly from Texas and Florida.
“My message to all the young people: Just be you,” Biden said to a crowd of members of Congress, administration officials and LGBTQ advocates. “You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You do belong.”
The federal health department will release sample policies for states to expand health care options for LGBTQ patients. The federal education department will release a sample school policy to achieve full inclusion of LGBTQ students.
State legislatures have introduced more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills over the past year, according to the White House. The Texas Legislature passed a law last year banning transgender students from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity.
In recent months, Abbott has ramped up efforts targeting transgender children. In February, he took drastic action directing the state Department of Family and Protective Services to launch child abuse investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming treatments to their children.
Gender-affirming care is recommended by all major medical associations to treat gender dysphoria, the distress a person can feel when their biological sex does not align with their gender identity. It can range from social transition — changing pronouns or dressing differently — to medical transition, including reversible puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
The Texas Supreme Court later stopped the state from investigating a family that had filed a lawsuit after the directive, but it overturned a broader measure that had blocked the state from investigating other parents.
Last week, Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer temporarily blocked the state from investigating many parents who were seeking gender-affirming care for their children. As of last week, at least eight investigations into Texas families remain open. The ruling was in response to a new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of three families and members of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy organization with more than 600 members in Texas.
Transgender children who have access to gender-affirming care have much lower rates of considering suicide than those without access, according to medical experts. In Texas, there is no law banning gender-affirming care for children, despite a legislative push last year by some Republicans.
The latest lawsuit revealed the impact of Abbott’s directive on children. A 16-year-old transgender boy attempted to kill himself after the order, according to the lawsuit. The outpatient psychiatric facility where he received mental health treatment reported his family to DFPS for child abuse since he was undergoing hormone therapy, per the lawsuit.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration recently moved to end gender affirming-care for transgender youth and Medicaid recipients.
Biden’s order also asks the health department to lead an initiative aimed at reducing youth exposure to conversion therapy and expand awareness and support for survivors of the practice. Biden is also asking the Federal Trade Commission to see if conversion therapy “constitutes an unfair or deceptive act or practice, and whether to issue consumer warnings or notices,” per the White House. He is also directing department heads to promote an end to conversion therapy worldwide.
Texas is one of 22 states that has not banned conversion therapy, a debunked practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The health department will explore guidance clarifying that federally funded programs cannot conduct conversion therapy.
Biden’s order calls on the health department to expand youth access to mental health services and issue new guidance for providing mental health care for LGBTQ youth. The order also charges the health department with strengthening LGBTQ nondiscrimination practices in the foster care system. Biden is also calling on the department to increase access to voluntary family counseling.
“We’re in a battle for the very soul of this nation,” Biden said. “It’s a battle I know we will win.”
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For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.