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One morning in July, Heather Crawford cradled her child Cass Crawford on the floor of their bedroom as they breathed through a panic attack together. Half-packed boxes surrounded them. The family was leaving the home they had always known in Texas, scared for the safety of their 16-year-old transgender teen.
On the bedroom floor, Heather asked Cass if they thought about hurting themselves.
Determining that Cass was not at high enough risk for self-harm to call an ambulance, Heather gave Cass a Klonopin prescribed for severe panic attacks.
She remembered the note that Cass left behind last time life became too much.
“I just can’t take it anymore. Do not resuscitate me please,” Cass had written. “I want this.”
Heather read the note aloud at a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Council meeting earlier this year after Gov. Greg Abbott directed the agency to open child abuse investigations on parents who provide gender-affirming care to their kids. Cass is nonbinary and uses the pronouns “they” or “them.” After their suicide attempt, they were diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria and began receiving gender-affirming care. Currently, Abbott’s order largely can’t be enforced as a court challenge plays out.
But the directive followed years of Texas officials and lawmakers repeatedly targeting transgender Texans with legislation and orders that have sought to limit everything from school sports participation to health care access.
That’s why the Crawford family decided to move out of Texas ahead of another legislative session. And that’s why Heather picked up Cass, gave them medication for anxiety attacks and solemnly continued packing up their life in Central Texas, where Heather and her husband both grew up.
“We don’t feel safe here,” Heather said. “It took me a long time to apply the term ‘political refugee’ to our situation, but I think we meet the definition.”
Before the family left, friends came from as far as Houston and Dallas to say goodbye to Cass and wish them well with their new life in Minnesota, 1,200 miles away.
Cass tried hard to make connections at their new school in St. Paul. But it’s tiring, they said, and awkward to explain to new people they meet. They’re still sad about what happened, and for the spring semester, the family has decided to keep Cass home and enroll them in an online high school.
“What I would want people to take away from this,” said Cass from their new home in Minnesota, “is how much this is hurting me.”
Cass Crawford was diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria after a suicide attempt in October 2019, when they were 13. Their pediatrician began providing gender-affirming care, greatly improving their mental health over time. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass attends fencing practice in Austin in March 2022. Heather, Cass’ mother, works to make sure her child stays busy with extracurriculars because boredom or idle time tend to exacerbate their struggles with anxiety and depression. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass has found the fencing community to be especially welcoming and accepting. They enjoy the fact that once a person dons their fencing wardrobe, their gender is not immediately obvious. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass during a going-away lunch with friends in August after the family decided they’d leave Texas. Friends traveled from as far away as Dallas and Houston to say their goodbyes. During the lunch, they talked about future plans to see each other, but Cass knew they likely wouldn’t see them again until the following summer at the earliest. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Heather Crawford begins to pack Cass’ Girl Scouts uniforms into moving boxes in July. Girl Scouts has been another welcoming community for Cass, and they served as a leader to younger members of the Girl Scouts community. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass rides their bike with their two dogs, Fuzzy and Howl Jenkins, near their home in North Austin. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass and Heather eat dinner at Jason’s Deli, the restaurant they always go to after fencing practice. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Heather Crawford speaks at a Department of Family and Protective Services Council meeting in Austin on March 11. Heather read aloud the note that Cass left before their suicide attempt in 2019. Many people in the room openly wept as she described her experience as the mother of a trans child in Texas. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Jaime Masters, then the DFPS commissioner, listens to public comments during a Department of Family and Protective Services Council meeting in Austin in March. The council members showed little reaction as trans Texans and their relatives spoke about officials’ attempts to limit access to gender-affirming health care. Most of the testimony was on behalf of families who were too fearful to testify in person. Accounts of trans teens’ suicides comprised the majority of the testimony, with the sound of muffled sobbing in the background. Masters was the head of the DFPS at the time, but Gov. Greg Abbott announced in November that she is being replaced. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Trans rights activists rally at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin on March 13. Cass and Heather Crawford attended this rally together but quickly left due to the intensity of the rally. Far-right counterprotesters, including InfoWars employee Owen Shroyer, showed up to harass attendees, leading to clashes between the two sides and a heavy police presence. Cass had a panic attack almost immediately upon arrival, and Heather quickly whisked them away. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Boxes are piled high in the kitchen at Cass’ home as a moving truck parks outside to transport their belongings to St. Paul, Minnesota. When the truck arrived to pick up the boxes, many rooms in the house remained unpacked. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Heather Crawford embraces Cass as they struggle through a panic attack while packing their room. Heather held Cass as tears rolled down their cheeks and they took deep breaths together. “I am just furious all the time that I had to drag them away from their whole life and start over, and I can't shield them from the fact that the state of Texas wants to criminalize their existence,” Heather said. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass was given a disposable camera to document their final months in Texas, spending much of it away at camp. They focused on the joys of a teenage summer and found refuge among friends before the impending move. Cass also spent the summer checking off items on their “Texas bucket list,” which included visits to various state parks, restaurants and Six Flags. Despite the fun items on the bucket list, the frequency of Cass’ panic attacks increased as moving day approached. Credit: Courtesy of Cass Crawford
Cass at their new home in St. Paul in September. With a delayed moving truck, the family stayed busy with shopping for school clothes and attending the local Renaissance Festival — anything to keep the mind occupied. “It feels weird. I don’t like starting over,” Cass said. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass plays an archery game with their father at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, Minnesota. The family filled the weekend with fun activities to distract from the anxiety of the first day at a new school. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass participates in a fencing activity at the Renaissance festival in Shakopee in September. “I’ve been struggling without fencing,” Cass said. After noticing Cass’ proficiency with a foil, the workers of this festival game informed Cass of fencing clubs in the area and encouraged them to get involved. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass tries on a new pair of combat boots at the Mall of America, preparing for the new school year. The family made frequent trips to the mall in their first few days living in Minnesota, as they had only a few days between arriving in their new home and the first day of school. Many of their belongings are still in boxes at their new home. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
On the first day of school in St. Paul, Heather applies eyeliner to Cass, who rarely wears makeup. Although wearing makeup is traditionally associated with femininity, Cass insists, “Whatever assumption the world wants to make about me is their problem. This is who I am.” Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
Cass sits on a park bench after their first day of school. Moments earlier, teachers broke up a fight between two students, which Cass paid little attention to as they were more focused on playing Pokemon Go. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
After school, Cass takes their dogs for a walk, continuing their after-school rhythm from their home in Texas, but now in a new neighborhood. As they walked in their new neighborhood in St. Paul in September, Cass noticed a neighbor with a flag supportive of their identity. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune