Quinn Kovar (not their real name) didn’t think Texas would come after their family. After Gov. Greg Abbott issued a Feb. 22 directive declaring gender-affirming medical care “child abuse” and ordering the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate, Kovar thought households with younger kids would be the ones targeted. Their son is in high school, and Kovar says child welfare agents would “get an earful” if they ever asked him if his family is abusing him by affirming his identity as a trans person.
“I was mainly scared for other people,” Kovar tells The Daily Beast. “I was upset and anxious, but I wasn’t scared for myself as much.”
All of that changed when Kovar was unable to pick up their son’s medication at the pharmacy last Monday. The clinic would not reauthorize the prescription, which Kovar says has “never happened before.” Reports of Texas health-care providers refusing medication for trans youth have been common in the days since Abbott’s directive, with parents sharing horror stories in private Facebook groups. One Texas parent reported that their doctor’s malpractice insurance dropped coverage for gender-affirming care as a result of the governor’s actions.
What made Kovar’s situation particularly troubling is that their son only had a few days of his medication left. Their household spent two and a half days in “absolute panic,” Kovar says, while they scrambled to figure out how to get him the care he needed. Very few pediatric endocrinologists in Texas treat trans youth, so Kovar was looking at going out of state while doing their best to reassure their son everything would be OK.
The prescription was eventually refilled a day after the Texas primaries, in which Abbott defeated his Republican challenger to win his party’s nomination. Given that critics have accused the incumbent of exploiting trans kids to rile up his base and boost his chances of re-election in November, Kovar couldn’t help but be struck by the timing.
“I had a lot of hope that there were people within the Republican Party that just didn’t understand and they just didn’t know,” Kovar says. “If they met people, they listened, and they really heard some facts, then they would change their minds. I can say now that I do not think that is the case at all. If somebody’s in the Republican Party and they are a politician, they have signed on to this.”
Texas is far from alone. There are nearly 200 anti-LGBTQ bills so far tabled in state legislatures this year; as The Daily Beast reported Monday, trans teens and parents in Alabama are nervously awaiting that state to pass a health care ban, criminalizing parents, doctors and even children, in the coming days or weeks.
Like many families of trans kids in Texas, the Kovars are now focused on doing what it takes to get out of the state as the future remains uncertain. DFPS has already begun investigating Texas parents under Abbott’s directive, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston announced on Friday that it is pausing hormone treatments to trans minors in fear of blowback from government leaders.
The directive is non-binding, but the families who spoke to The Daily Beast say they are worried about the disruption to their children’s lives if they are the next to receive a phone call. Kelly Barton, who chose to speak under a pseudonym like the other parents interviewed for this story, says when DFPS “is the threat, you have no control once that process starts.”
“We can all talk all day long about how there’s all these laws in place [to protect us], but it’s just super scary,” Barton tells The Daily Beast. “No one else understands. The people that are in it with you understand, but it’s so hard. People see it from the outside and they might feel outrage over it, but they can go home and go to sleep at night. They’re mad, they’re upset, and they feel for their friends, but they don’t have to question what they need to do tomorrow morning.”
“I feel like the heat has just finally got turned up so high that it’s not tolerable any longer.”
— Cassie Johnson
Moving to another state isn’t an easy decision for any family, but it’s a particularly difficult one for Cassie Johnson. Johnson (not her real name) is a counselor who has worked in Texas schools for 17 years, and relocating would mean sacrificing her retirement. Educators employed in public colleges and K-12 schools pay into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which manages their pension plans. If she’s no longer working in the state, Johnson says it will “take longer to collect retirement and it’ll be reduced significantly.”
“I’m supposed to be homeschooling my kids and I can’t do it. I can’t focus on anything else except for getting out of here.”
— Quinn Kovar
“At some point, I’ll still be able to receive some of my benefits, but everything that I had planned out and was preparing for so that I would be able to retire comfortably will be completely ruined,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I feel like the heat has just finally got turned up so high that it’s not tolerable any longer.”
But even if it means jeopardizing her long-term financial stability, Johnson feels she has no choice but to leave. She says the climate in Texas has taken an extreme toll on her trans son, who began experiencing severe suicidal ideation last week. She says the past year, which saw Texas lawmakers unsuccessfully push legislation to jail parents who allow their kids to transition, has been full of “ups and downs.” She says that no one in their household is “functioning well right now.”
Johnson is currently seeking inpatient care for her son in another state because she is concerned about what might happen if he is sent to a mental health treatment center in Texas. The directive compels medical professionals and other “mandatory reporters” to notify DFPS if they are aware of a trans youth receiving gender-affirming care, with failure to report punishable by up to a year in prison.
“Because I am a school counselor, I know people that work at these facilities,” Johnson says. “Even with those connections and resources that I know not everyone has access to, I still can’t find care for my child without having to be afraid that DFPS might step in. I might not even be able to bring him home if I put him in a facility like that.”
Many parents say they started planning a move well before the most recent attacks by Texas leaders. Last year more than 70 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community were introduced to the Texas Legislature, according to the statewide advocacy group Equality Texas.
That total represents the largest number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills ever pushed by a state in a single year. While the majority failed to become law, Abbott signed a trans sports ban in October, which requires trans student athletes to compete in accordance with their original birth certificate in K-12 sports.
Kovar says their family has spent an entire year trying to flee Texas. While they have a destination in mind, Kovar’s husband has a seasonal job and typically has to wait until summer to find work. They can’t leave unless he has secure employment in place, Kovar stresses, because their son needs to maintain access to health insurance to prevent any future disruptions in his medication.
“This is what is paralyzing me right now,” Kovar says. “I homeschool. I’m supposed to be homeschooling my kids and I can’t do it. I can’t focus on anything else except for getting out of here.”
One proposed solution is that Kovar moves first and takes the kids, but that idea presents its own share of problems. They haven’t put their house on the market yet, nor have they found a home in their intended state, where housing prices are significantly higher than in Texas. Then there’s the costs of maintaining two households and of relocating itself: Theirs is considered a long-distance move, which comes with an average price tag of $5,000, according to estimates from Moving.com.
While the Kovars have moved their timeline up to get out as soon as possible, they are grappling with the emotional trauma of leaving behind everyone they love for a state where they know no one. Both Kovar and their husband are fourth-generation Texans, and most of their family and friends live within a few miles. When the couple drives to work or to drop the kids off at school, they pass houses their grandfathers built.
“It hurts to leave,” Kovar says. “I don’t know that I’ll really believe we’re leaving until we’re in the moving truck. Even though I’m currently surrounded by moving boxes, it just really doesn’t feel real that our government is doing this to us.”
Not every family can move or even wants to do so. But many that are have begun crowdfunding to offset their expenses, which include everything from hiring movers and renting a van to the cost of being out of work while seeking full-time employment in another state. Federal unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the average American was out of work for five months in 2021, but those numbers could continue to fluctuate with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
GoFundMe campaigns to help trans kids and their families leave Texas have found tremendous support. The seven fundraisers launched on the platform since Abbott’s directive have brought in more than $40,000 combined at the time of publication, although many are still far short of their overall goals.
“When you feel isolated, alone, and afraid in moments like this, it gives you strength. People have our backs.”
— Rebecca McGowan
Rebecca McGowan (not her real name) says the outpouring of love her household has received since creating their fundraiser 11 days ago has been “incredibly humbling.” Currently, more than 100 people have chipped in from across the country, with donors sometimes giving hundreds of dollars to help her family make a fresh start. McGowan says they need all the help they can get: With five children, she estimates that just the cost of packing up the moving van is setting her household back $15,000.
“You feel like a failure having to ask for help because never did you think you’d be in this position,” McGowan tells The Daily Beast. “When you feel isolated, alone, and afraid in moments like this, it gives you strength. People have our backs.”
But many parents say they are struggling with survivor’s guilt before they even officially leave Texas, especially as groups like the ACLU fight for families who don’t have the privilege or means to start over. The national legal advocacy group was able to secure a partial injunction against the Abbott directive in two cases: a DFPS worker who, as the parent of a trans child, would be required to report herself under the policy and a counselor whose clients include trans youth.
The ACLU has asked a Texas district court to consider a full restraining order preventing investigations against families of trans youth, and a hearing is scheduled for Friday. Advocates are hopeful the directive will eventually be struck down in court. District attorneys representing five of the state’s largest counties have already released statements saying they will not enforce it.
Kovar says their household feels “a little bit calmer now” after the Biden administration forcefully condemned Texas last week and hinted that the White House was prepared to bring legal action against the state in support of trans youth. But amid that flicker of relief, Kovar is grappling with competing anxieties: They worry the family is abandoning their community and “leaving a whole lot of people here to suffer” but also fear they aren’t moving fast enough.
When their child’s medication didn’t come through last Monday, the latter emotion took over. It felt like they were watching The Handmaid’s Tale, Kovar recalls, and their family wasn’t able to “cross the border out of Gilead fast enough.” That thought is going to torment Kovar every single day until their children are able to unpack in their new home, and even then Kovar says it won’t really go away.
“It’s going to take me a little while before I feel safe with my family again,” Kovar adds. “I haven’t felt safe in this state for a while.”