transgender rights

‘I Was Always Worried:' Family Moves From Texas to Vt., Fearing Climate for Trans Youth

A family that relocated roughly 2,000 miles to Vermont described their reasons for moving

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A family that recently arrived in Vermont moved approximately 2,000 miles from their previous home in Texas, because they said that state’s climate for transgender youth left them feeling unsafe.

"Our kids are great. We love our kids," said J., a father of two – one of whom is transgender. "We want the best for them."

J. and his wife, V., said they wanted to make a fresh start in New England, in a place they thought they’d have strong civil rights protections for their child, Pearl, and for other transgender youth.

"There was a lot of people who didn’t understand me," lamented Pearl, 9, describing their life in Texas.

NECN & NBC10 Boston chose to not use the family’s full names or reveal the specific town where they now live, because they said they fear online harassment.

J. and V. said their move followed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott saying in February that he considers it a form of child abuse worthy of reporting to the state if parents seek medical care supporting their trans kid’s gender identity – like puberty-blocking medications. 

As NBC News reported at the time,  Abbott, a Republican, sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services, calling on it to "conduct a prompt and thorough investigation" of any reported instances of minors undergoing "elective procedures for gender transitioning."

Abbott tasked licensed professionals who work with children — including teachers, nurses and doctors — and "members of the general public" with reporting claims against parents, NBC News reported. The governor warned that state law "provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse."

That call left the family that recently moved to Vermont on edge.

"I was always worried," recalled J. "I had this sense of looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one’s targeting my family."

"We had friends under investigation at the time we decided to leave," revealed V.

Pearl had a message for others about transgender youth and their families.

"Their parents aren’t abusing their child if they’re letting their child be trans," Pearl said. "You shouldn’t be mean to them just because they want to be what they want to be."

The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly said trans youth need comprehensive, nonjudgmental, gender-affirming care because they have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association agree that gender-affirming care is medically necessary and backed up by years of research.

Despite those medical groups’ clear stances, the attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, argued doctors and drug companies with a "gender ideology" harm "confused, innocent" children by supporting their transitions – which he also labeled "abuse."

J. fully rejected the view of Paxton, a Republican.

"We’re doing what’s best for our children, based on science," said J., adding that the tone from top state leaders had him too worried for his family to stay in Texas.

"We can’t be there to find out how much worse it gets before it gets better," added V.

Vermont, however, emerged as an appealing option, the couple said, with no barriers to Pearl joining sports teams consistent with their gender identity, for example. Additionally, the Vermont Agency of Education has published a list of best practices for safe, inclusive learning environments for transgender and gender nonconforming students.

Some advocates are now predicting families of trans youth may continue relocating from conservative states to communities with more of a reputation for progressivism.

"It can be hard to know where to turn,” acknowledged Dana Kaplan, the executive director of Outright Vermont, which has a support group for adult caregivers and family members of trans and gender nonconforming kids.

That support group, known as Trans Parent, helped the new arrivals from Texas find community connections ahead of their big move.

"It felt like people were coming out of the woodwork to offer support during our move, which was amazing," J. said of Trans Parent members he and V. talked with ahead of their move, often getting advice on how to settle into their new community in Vermont.

Kaplan said he could see an increase in families moving to Vermont, as J. and V.’s did.

"I do think there’s a sense Vermont is a safe haven," Kaplan said. "There may be families that come to Vermont based on that reputation, and we’re here to help create that sense of safety."

However, Kaplan is quick to point out Vermont is not perfect. Here, too, advocates say transgender people can face struggles, such as housing discrimination. Others may have felt threatened by cases of hurtful fliers or vandalism, or may not always feel strong connections with neighbors.

Despite those challenges, Pearl and their parents are thrilled to now call Vermont home, and said they do feel safer in the town they moved to, compared to Texas.

The weather may be a lot chillier than Texas, but the attitudes in Vermont toward LGBTQ+ folks they say, are much, much warmer.

"There are a lot of people who need to go somewhere welcoming and somewhere safe," V. said. "So [Vermont] has been a good place for us."

The family is now giving back to the organization that helped them network and make connections in Vermont. They’re raising money for an annual tradition Saturday at noon on the Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington: the Outright Vermont Fire Truck Pull.

Teams will compete in an unusual feat of strength to help the nonprofit raise $125,000 or more for its programming – including a summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth.

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