Parents fear Texas’ anti-trans ‘child abuse’ investigations could spread across the US

A protester holding a sign reading "gender diversity is beautiful

An Alabama family with a trans child say they are stuck between a rock and a hard place as anti-trans political attacks consume the US.

Robert and Sophie Colman’s daughter Bella began vocalising her gender identity while she was still in “diapers” (all names have been changed to protect their privacy).

“[She] corrected us for the first time at the age of two… in a very toddler way,” Sophie tells PinkNews. “It was: ‘[I’m] not he, I’m a girl’.”

Sophie says they initially “wrote it off for a while”, thinking that “kids go through phases”. But, Robert adds, “it became the longest-running phase in history until we couldn’t ignore it”.

Today, Bella is seven going on eight, a “very outgoing” kid who loves art, bikes and making dresses for her dolls.

But her parents are terrified for her future, as lawmakers in their state are preparing to take up one of the most extreme anti-trans healthcare laws the US has seen.

In February, the Alabama Senate approved Senate Bill 184 (SB 184), which would make providing gender-affirming care for minors a felony. Healthcare officials could face a hefty 10-year prison sentence or fine if they provide such treatments, which researchers say can be ‘life-saving’.

SB 184 would also require teachers, nurses, counsellors, principals and administrators at public and private schools in the state to out trans students to parents. 

The bill – which LGBT+ rights advocates say is “morally wrong” – is currently making its way through the Alabama House.

Gender-affirming healthcare has positive benefits for trans youth's mental health, study finds

A person holds a sign that reads “We Love Our Trans Youth” during a rally at the Alabama State House to draw attention to anti-trans legislation. (Getty/Julie Bennett)

The Colmans are “constantly worried” about the idea of having to “possibly pick up and move out of the state” so they can get Bella to a “place where she’s safe and has affirming medical care”. 

“We are not in a place yet where she needs that care,” Sophie says. “She’s only eight, but we will be soon [as] she’ll possibly need puberty blockers in the next couple of years.”

Both parents think a lot about “what kind of jobs” they can find and where is an affordable place to move to “that’s gonna be safe”.  

“These are worries, and it’s also angering because it’s not the politicians’ place to be in our medical offices, our bathrooms, our sports arena,” Sophie says. “And they’re asserting themselves there.”

 “It used to be I’d look for maybe a fun vacation or something to do on the weekend,” Robert adds. “Now it’s ‘where’s it safe for my daughter to live?'” 

The Alabama bill comes as right-wing lawmakers in other states – including Idaho and Texas – have been pushing anti-trans legislation. In Texas, governor Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare services to open “child abuse” investigations into the supportive families of trans youth. 

Last week, a Texas court ordered officials to stop such investigations, but the Texas attorney general is appealing the decision.

Robert fears such a move “could definitely come to Alabama”. 

“But what’s even more frustrating is not knowing which state’s gonna be next,” he adds. “You might move to a safe state, and then in two, three, four years, you’re in the same boat again.” 

A person holds up a sign at a protest against anti-trans legislation in Alabama that reads "I am human" with the words "gay", "straight", "bisexual" and "transgender" crossed out

Opponents of several bills targeting trans youth attend a rally at the Alabama State House on 30 March 2021 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Getty/Julie Bennett)

Sophie is speaking out because she think it’s important that “regular people, not necessarily politicians, understand where we’re coming from”. 

She wants them to know what although she and her husband didn’t “choose” to have a trans child, they did “choose to accept her”.

“We denied her truth for so long after she told us at the age of two that we were wrong and subsequently witnessed the daily anguish she experienced when no one believed her.

 “A few years later, when we began using the pronouns and name she preferred and let her dress the way she wanted to, we saw her blossom into a confident and happy child. 

“That’s how we knew we were on the right track as parents of a gender non-conforming child.”

Their extended family had been resistant to affirming Bella’s identity, and it was “even mentioned on one occasion” that Sophie might’ve “caused this” because she “wanted to have a little girl”. 

But over time, relatives became more understanding through “many discussions, and after inviting family to attend” group sessions with their local Prism United – an organisation that offers peer support to LGBT+ youth and their families. 

After making progress within her own family, Sophie believes that others can “find it in their hearts to stand up against the fear-mongering and hatred that they’ve been fed for so long”. 

She adds: “I realise that’s an idealistic point of view, but that hope makes me not want to pack up and leave Alabama because I know that love and understanding is within all of us and is what we all want.”