Pushed by Abbott’s challenger, Texas agency drops web page with suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth


In late August, one of Governor Greg Abbott’s main challengers, Don Huffines, accused the Texas Child Welfare Agency of “promoting transgender sex policies among Texas youth” in a section of its website. titled “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation”.

“These are not the values ​​of Texas, these are not the values ​​of the Republican Party, but obviously these are the values ​​of Greg Abbott,” Huffines said in a video widely distributed on Twitter. The web page published by the Department of Family and Protective Services links to a suicide prevention hotline and other resources “dedicated to helping empower and celebrate” LGBTQ youth.

Within hours, the web page was gone.

The same goes for the entire website of Texas Youth Connection, a division of family and protective services that directs young people to a variety of resources including education, housing, and those on its LGBTQ page as they go. prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced with a message that read, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a full review of its content. This is done to ensure that its information, resources and references are up to date. “

Abbott, who appoints the department’s commissioner and the nine-member board that sets the agency’s rules and policies, did not respond to a request for comment.

Patrick Crimmins, the spokesperson for the department, said the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions asking for more details on why the website was taken down or if it had anything to do with it. thing to do with Huffins.

But communications from Family and Protection Services obtained via a request for public documents show that agency employees discussed the removal of the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffins’ tweet, shortly. before taking it offline.

Thirteen minutes after the Huffines video aired, Director of Media Relations Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s director of communications, under the subject line “Video of Don Huffines accusing Gov / DFPS of pushing the liberal transgender agenda. “

“FOR YOUR INFORMATION. It’s starting to explode on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then interviewed Darrell Azar, director of web and creative services at DFPS, about who oversees the page. “Darrell – please note that we may need to remove this page or revise the content in some way,” he wrote.

Azar said the webpage was from the department’s Adult Life Skills Program, which provides services to older teens – typically those 16 and older – who are in state foster care.

The program has posted “LGBTQ related content for as long as I can remember,” Azar said, but the page condemned by Huffines is “only a few years old.” He said all content on the Texas Youth Connection website has been endorsed by Debra Emerson, a longtime employee who is the agency’s director of on-call, family and youth services.

In a statement, Huffines claimed the removal of the Texas Youth Connection website.

“We are not surprised that state employees loyal to Greg Abbott have had to scramble after exposing their evil actions,” said Huffines, a Dallas businessman and former state senator. “I promised Texans that I would get rid of this website and I kept that promise.”

Ricardo Martinez, chief executive of LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas, said LGBTQ children are disproportionately represented in foster care and “face truly staggering discrimination and abuse.”

He also pointed to an investigation by the Trevor Project – the nonprofit that operated the suicide prevention line linked to the now-deleted website – which found that LGBTQ youth who said they had previously been in foster care foster care were almost three times more likely to also report that they had attempted suicide in the past year, compared to those who did not spend time in the foster care system.

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“The state is responsible for the lives of these children, but it has intentionally taken away a way for them to find help when they need it most,” Martinez said. “This action is unreasonable and it reminds us that political aspirations are part of every attack on LGBTQ + children in Texas, including fabricated debates and dozens of anti-transgender bills that target them this year. These precious children deserve so much better than the way this state treats them. “

The deleted web page also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and gender identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page was also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ rights group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Since launching his campaign in May, Huffines has sought to pressure Abbott from the right, criticizing the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, increased encounters of migrants on the southern border of the state. Abbott ignored Huffines and his other main enemies – including former Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West and conservative commentator and comedian Chad Prather – although Huffines argued his campaign urged the governor to take more conservative positions on some questions.

In June, as Abbott prepared to recall the Legislature to Austin for a special session, Huffines urged the governor to give lawmakers the green light to re-consider a bill banning the use of anti-drug drugs. puberty, hormone therapy or surgeries and medical procedures. used “for purposes of gender transition or gender change”.

The legislation failed in the spring session, and Abbott declined to add it to a list of topics lawmakers might consider over the summer. But in early August, the governor asked DFPS commissioner Jaime Masters to determine whether sex reassignment surgery for transgender minors was a form of child abuse. He also called on the agency to investigate parents whose children are undergoing the procedure if it finds that such surgeries constitute abuse.

The masters responded by agreeing with Abbott, calling the surgeries “child abuse.” LGBTQ advocates say surgery is rarely performed on children.

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