Politics

The Potential Exodus Brewing Within Texas’ State Government

A map of Texas is seen on a desk with a chair.
A map of state Senate districts is seen on a desk in the Texas Capitol in Austin on Sept. 20. Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

Morgan Davis is an investigator in the Travis County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Davis says that, as a transgender man, he’d wanted to work for a child welfare agency so that he could be the kind of advocate he never had while growing up. But in February, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new directive ordering Morgan’s agency to investigate the homes of children whose doctors have prescribed medical treatments that trans advocates describe as “gender-affirming care.” Abbott describes these treatments, including those that can be reversed, as “sex change procedures,” categorizing them as a form of “child abuse.” This directive followed a proposed Texas bill limiting which bathrooms trans children could use, and another proposed bill limiting which sports teams trans children could join. So for Davis, the directive was yet another declaration from his state government that seemed designed to make life difficult for trans kids. He then submitted his resignation, which is effective next month.

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The governor’s directive has since been frozen by a legal injunction. Still, some families with trans children have begun to flee the state, not waiting around to see if the directive will be upheld. Meanwhile, Davis is still at work, wrapping up his existing caseload before he leaves his job. On Tuesday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Morgan Davis about his dilemma in Texas. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Seth Stevenson: You put in your resignation shortly after handling your first case assigned under this new directive. Why did you decide to resign?

Morgan Davis: I did this job to protect children—that’s part of our mission statement. When it became clear that I was being asked to go into homes that I knew to be safe, and to continue cases that I knew should be closed based on the lack of medical evidence to the contrary, I just morally couldn’t do it. It felt like a betrayal.

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I think several of your colleagues have also resigned. Have you talked to them about their decisions?

Yes, I’ve been speaking to people who thought they would retire in these jobs with a great deal of pride in the work that they’ve done—and who feel betrayed by the very department they dedicated their lives to. It’s heartbreaking, but I’m very proud of them personally. I am a bit nervous for them, but I’m very grateful because they’re taking a stand. There was a concern that if this directive is only the starting point, where does this end? You know, this is sucking so much air out of the department when we have real problems to attend to. We are ripe for tragedy when caseloads are unmanageable and we are not able to get to all the children who truly do need us.

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What’s your sense of the current mood at your agency?

If people are not looking for other jobs, they are actively trying to transfer and to look for other jobs currently in my unit. In a little bit, there’ll be one person left in the unit and that’s me—and then I’m leaving. People are distraught. Morale is incredibly low. This is an agency whose caseworkers had boots on the ground during the pandemic, when kids were back in school, and grappling with the abuse and neglect that had taken place over the past two years. To be asking these same workers to work directly against the child’s best interests is just … I don’t mean it’s unfathomable, but it’s happening.

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In your understanding, what kind of treatments would fall under the category of gender-affirming care?

Based on my experience for the youth, it could be therapy oftentimes, genuinely for affirming care if, hypothetically, you were female and would present more masculine through clothes or other explorations. Or you could possibly be prescribed gender blockers, which are reversible. There was a concern regarding a child taking estrogen or testosterone, but in the majority of cases that does not happen. The care is provided to guide these kids to a decision they will make as an adult. But shutting off that avenue means that parents who are responsible and trying to get medical care legitimately for their child will now be, ironically, put in the position where they will have to illegally seek out help.

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I think your office’s policy prior to this directive was that they wouldn’t investigate a case where a parent is giving medication to a child that’s been prescribed by a doctor. Have you talked to any doctors about whether they have thoughts about this policy?

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Speaking to doctors, what’s frightening is when you call them, they don’t even say their own names. There’s genuine fear. It’s incomprehensible because someone like myself, I have no medical background, and for me to question a doctor with decades of medical experience with children … it is heartbreaking. Also, because they are doctors and nurses, they are mandated reporters: If they don’t report, they could lose their license and livelihood. They’re just good people trying to do a good thing and get children care so these beautiful kids can be beautiful adults, and they’re being stymied. I mean, how many times in our lives can we say that there was a medical need that was meant for children that’s effective, that’s keeping them with us, but because of someone’s personal belief., I’m going to go in and say “stop” as an agent of the state? That’s why when people ask me why I resigned, I say morally it was inevitable.

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What do you plan to do after you leave your job?

I very much want to stay in child advocacy, and I pray that I’m allowed to. I do have a fear of retaliation.

There’s currently an injunction on this directive. How do you see it playing out down the road?

We’re not quite sure what the Texas state Supreme Court will do. It’s already been whispered that the government appeal has been set and that it could go to the Supreme Court. In that time period, these cases will be open, and these families will be in limbo for what could last up to two years. And it doesn’t seem that this is the end—it almost seems like this is a gateway. It’s sad that they considered the most vulnerable most vulnerable to open that door.

Do you feel like you might pay a price for speaking out like this?

Yes, there has been a fear of retaliation, and it truly is all right. I’ve been telling everybody, I’m an adult, come for me, I’m going to be fine. I’m genuinely proud to do this because, as I always joke, if this is the hill I go out on, I’ll be more than glad to do that.

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