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How a Texas child custody case spotlights transgender issues

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Texas has captured the nation’s attention — albeit involuntarily — when it comes to the rights of transgender children due to a custody case that has been setting the tone for what can happen when two parents disagree very deeply on what’s best for their child.

At issue is the gender-identity of one 7-year-old child. Although biologically male, the child’s mother asserts that the child has identified as a girl since the age of 5 — and her gender expression was already evident well before then. In her corner, she has the testimony of family members, physicians, school staff members and a jury’s decision granting her full custody of the child.

Standing opposed is the child’s father. He insists that the child is a boy — no matter what anybody else says. His refusal to accommodate the child’s gender expression and insistence that the child should wear masculine clothing and answer to a masculine name has cost him custody in a civil trial before a jury.

The case has also galvanized both the transgender community and conservative activists — especially once the judge in the custody case chose to vacate the jury’s verdict and grant the parents “joint managing conservatorship.” The judge also refused to grant the mother’s request to order the father to respect the child’s gender identity.

Naturally, politics has entered into the dispute, with the state’s conservative governor promising an investigation by Child Protective Services (CPS) into the mother and State Rep. Steve Toth announcing that he intends to introduce a bill that would equate helping a minor transition from one gender identity to another with child abuse. Many transgender advocates say that vacating the jury’s decision sends a dangerous message and leaves trans children wildly unprotected. They say that the father’s social media and real-life campaign to enforce a male identity on his child and drum up outrage against the child’s mother is the real abuse.

While this case is still playing out, it illustrates how complicated court battles involving transgender issues can sometimes become — especially when the actors in the dispute are on opposite sides of any controversial issue. If you suspect that your child custody case is potentially explosive, make sure that you address the issue early with your legal team.

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