Texas agency removes webpages with resources for LGBTQ youths

Texas officials removed two webpages in late August that provided resources for LGBTQ youths — including a link to a suicide prevention hotline — a few hours after criticism from one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Republican primary challengers.

The candidate, Don Huffines, who owns a real estate development company in the Dallas area, wrote Aug. 31 on Twitter: “It’s offensive to see @GregAbbott_TX use our tax dollars to advocate for transgender ideology. This must end.”

He described a webpage on the Department of Family and Protective Services’ website titled “gender identity and sexual orientation.” 

“They’re talking about helping ‘empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allied,’ nonheterosexual behavior, and it goes on and on,” Huffines said in a video. “I mean, really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values. But these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values.”

In a separate tweet the same afternoon, Huffines linked to a webpage for Texas Youth Connection, a program run by the Department of Family and Protective Services, which included a link to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, and other LGBTQ rights groups.

“This is the webpage where @GregAbbott_TX’s political appointees are promoting transgender ideology,” Huffines wrote.

A few hours later, both pages had been removed.

“The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content,” a message on the website says. “This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

It provides links to the Texas Youth Helpline and the department’s Preparation for Adult Living program. The page on sexual orientation and gender identity now shows an error message.

Patrick Crimmins, the director of communications for the Department of Family and Protective Services, said in an email Tuesday that the review of the webpages “is still ongoing” and would not provide further comment about why the pages were removed.

Abbott’s office has not returned a request for comment.

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that emails obtained through a public records request show that agency officials discussed removing the gender identity and sexual orientation webpage in response to Huffines’ tweet. 

Just 13 minutes after Huffines’ video went up, Marissa Gonzales, the department’s media relations director, emailed a link to Crimmins with the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda,” the Chronicle reported. She wrote in the body of the email: “FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter.”

Crimmins emailed Darrell Azar, the department’s web and creative services director. He asked who runs the page and wrote, “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” according to the Chronicle.

Azar responded that the webpage came from the department’s Preparation for Adult Living program, which supports older teens placed in foster care by the state. He wrote that the content Huffines criticized is “only a few years old” but that the adult living program has posted “content related to LGBTQ for as long as I can remember,” according to the Chronicle. 

Huffines took credit for the pages’ removal in a tweet Tuesday.

“Greg Abbott was using taxpayer dollars to advocate for transgender ideology and the Human Rights Campaign,” he wrote. “Our campaign made him stop.”

Many advocates spoke out against the pages’ removal in August, but even more people, including elected officials, condemned the decision in response to the Chronicle’s article.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who was secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration, said the decision to remove the webpages was “disgusting.”

“Greg Abbott is so scared of losing his primary, he’s sabotaging an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention hotline to kowtow his extremist base,” he wrote Tuesday.

Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Texas, said in an emailed statement that LGBTQ children are overrepresented in foster care and “face truly staggering discrimination and abuse.” 

“The state is responsible for these kids’ lives, yet it actively took away a resource for them when they are in crisis,” he said. “What’s worse, this was done at the start of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. LGBTQ youth who have been in foster care report three times greater likelihood of attempting suicide in the past year (according to a Trevor Project research brief). Again and again this year, we are simply asking that these kids’ lives not be politicized.”

Texas has considered more than 50 bills this year that target LGBTQ youths, particularly transgender youths, according to Equality Texas.

While advocates have defeated all of the bills so far, the Legislature recently began a third special legislative session — the fourth legislative session overall this year — and it is considering a number of anti-transgender bills again. 

Advocates have said the rhetoric in the bills has a negative effect on the mental health of LGBTQ youths statewide.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 30, crisis calls from LGBTQ young people in Texas increased by 150 percent compared to the same period last year, according to data shared last week by the Trevor Project. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained counselor at the Crisis Text Line. You can also visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional support networks.

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