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Trans Refugees: Leaving Texas To Protect A Trans Kid

Posted in Austin Chronicle, Creative Commons, Journalism, and LGBTQIA

“It’s heartbreaking to look back and see that the investigations of gender-affirming families have started, that the nightmare I had of someone knocking on my door and threatening to take away my kid is actually coming true for some people,” Camille Ray told me.

Ray’s family are like a growing number of families: they’ve left or plan to leave the state of Texas to protect a trans or queer child. She moved from the Austin-area to Maryland in August 2021, in order to protect her transgender son Leon. We spoke on the phone as she walked her dog on a hiking trail near her home, as research for my recent Austin Chronicle article on the fear and anxiety faced by trans people and their families.

Though the interview didn’t make it into the article, I wanted to share a little of it here since I know her experience mirrors that of so many other residents of Texas, and other states attacking their LGBTQIA+ young folks. People who make the painful choice to leave, essentially becoming political refugees from a state that hates their trans or queer children.

‘This isn’t going away’: Why people leave Texas to protect trans kids

Although she moved before the recent anti-trans “child abuse” directive issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, it wasn’t hard to see the direction things were headed. Ray recalled testifying before the legislature during the 2021 session, when the state tried to pass a host of laws restricting the rights of trans people. While there, she met other parents of trans kids. Testifying “was a traumatic exhausting experience,” she recalled. “I knew other parents who been through a previous session when the bathroom bill was introduced, and they basically said this isn’t going away. This is going to keep happening.”

She knew more legislative attacks were coming and realized her family had reached their limit. “I’d spent so much time fighting and it was affecting me and my mental health, then Leon started become physically ill with chronic stomach aches.”

Ray had attempted to protect Leon from as much as possible, by enrolling him in a private, LGBTQIA-affirming school. “The Dripping Springs school district had a very bad track record. There are basically no transgender kids in the school district because they left, broken and I didn’t want Leon to break like that.”

Even in a private school, the hostile atmosphere in the state got to the young boy, and his mental health suffered. “He was basically putting on a fake smile, but at school he wasn’t trying. The teachers called and said, Leon used to be the kid who made all the others laugh, and now he barely talks at all.”

Leon began transitioning at 7, and by this point was only 8 years old. It was incredibly painful to see him suffer so much at such a young age. “You should be able to just be a kid, you shouldn’t worry that people are going to pass laws against you.”

Cutting ties to Texas

Eventually Ray realized she couldn’t raise Leon in Texas. In addition, she was looking at paying for both private grade school and college for an older sibling at once. But beyond that, she feared the passage of future bills that could interfere with Leon’s ability to access gender-affirming medical treatment as he reached adolescence.

Maryland’s state constitution contains protections for LGBTQIA people, and the state has since passed additional laws protecting their rights. After researching the political climate there, the Ray family moved. Though born in Texas, her only remaining tie in the area was her father, who’d lived in Austin since the 70s. He came along too.

Leon turned 9 in Maryland. At his new school, while his teacher and key administrators know that he’s trans, he’s otherwise able to be a normal kid. They aren’t hiding, but they are letting him explore a normal childhood too.

“Leon’s great, he’s able to be just a kid here. He’s playing piano, he’s started Taekwondo, he’s like walking the trails by our house that I’m on now. He’s happy, and if you ask him he’ll tell you that he’s happy. He loves Maryland, he loves cool weather. He’s happy and this is him.”

‘Get out if you can get out’

“Get out if you can get out. Why would you want to live that way?”

But Ray recognizes that she was lucky to have the resources to leave, and not to have any ties to the region keeping her there. She grieves for the ones left behind, who face draconian, anti-science, anti-child governments.

“Scientists have been studying here and in other countries the best way to keep [trans] kids alive and well. We know the answers, at least we have some that are clear enough that every major medical association supports them. So why the hell would you be against them? Do you want our kids dead? That’s what you’re telling us, and fuck that, excuse my language.”

While she feels safe in Maryland, she stressed its important for everyone to pay attention to what’s happening. She pointed out that Abbott’s directive to treat trans families as abusers circumvents normal democratic processes, since he created policy without following any of the normal procedures. Even if the move fails, it has real consequences. “These bills give a license to bullies and to society at large to discriminate against transgender youth.” Even proposing laws like the bathroom bills or trans sports bans result in spiking reports of bullying and suicide attempts.

“It could be you next in the cross-hairs,” she warned. “Once they destroy one community, maybe they’ll go after one you belong too. They always need a scapegoat and God forbid you become that scapegoat next.”

Being trans is beautiful & brave

Before I let her go, Ray wanted to reject the idea that being transgender is “trendy” or forced on kids by their parents. She stressed that no one would choose the fear a parent has when raising an LGBTQIA kid in such a potentially bigoted, dangerous world. At the same time, she spoke movingly of what she’s learned from her son.

“Many of us view it as a gift that these kids are teaching us and the world,” she said. “They’re reminding us that gender is a human construct.”

“There’s all kinds of things that they’re teaching us, bravely, I might add. I love and respect my son in a way I didn’t know it was possible to love and respect a child, because to me he’s one of the bravest people I know for standing in his truth at the age of 7. We should all be that brave and I have to say he has given me, by example, the courage to stand in my truth as well.”

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