“Despicable.” “Disgusting.” “Egregious.” “Terrifying.”
Those were some of the responses to reporting by The Washington Post on Wednesday that the office of Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sought to create a list of state residents who had changed their gender on driver’s licenses and other Department of Public Safety (DPS) records.
“Need total number of changes from male to female and female to male for the last 24 months, broken down by month,” the head of the DPS driver’s license division wrote to colleagues on June 30, according to an email obtained via public records request. “We won’t need DL/ID numbers at first but may need to have them later if we are required to manually look up documents.”
As the newspaper detailed:
After more than 16,000 such instances were identified, DPS officials determined that a manual search would be needed to determine the reason for the changes, DPS spokesman Travis Considine told the Post in response to questions.
“A verbal request was received,” he wrote in an email. “Ultimately, our team advised the AG’s office the data requested neither exists nor could be accurately produced. Thus, no data of any kind was provided.”
Asked who in Paxton’s office had requested the records, he replied: “I cannot say.”
While Paxton’s office did not respond to requests for comment and public records obtained by the paper—entitled “AG Request Sex Change Data” and “AG data request”—did not indicate why his office sought the information, LGBTQ+ individuals and rights advocates are fearful, given the Texas GOP’s “unrelenting assault on trans rights.”
Meanwhile, Paxton in February released a nonbinding legal opinion claiming that gender-affirming care for minors—considered medically necessary by professional organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association—is child abuse. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott then ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate child abuse claims filed against parents who may be providing their children with such care.
The Texas Supreme Court in May overturned a statewide injunction on procedural grounds but also concluded that Abbott did not have the authority to order the investigations. In response to another legal challenge filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal, a Travis County district judge in September issued a second injunction blocking such probes for families that belong to the advocacy group PFLAG and those named in the suit.
The ACLU was among the organizations and individuals alarmed by the Post‘s new reporting. The group said that “this is an alarming attack on the privacy, safety, and dignity of transgender Texans. Trans people deserve to live free from persecution—in Texas and everywhere.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) legal director Sarah Warbelow also weighed in with a statement: “For the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but for transgender Americans in particular, today’s story out of Texas is chilling. Weaponizing state agencies and their public records to pinpoint and single out transgender Texans is terrifying, albeit not shocking. Throughout 2022, Attorney General Paxton, along with Gov. Abbot, have stopped at nothing to attack the very existence of transgender youth and adults. This development shows how far they’re willing to go in discriminating against transgender people. HRC stands with all members of the trans community in Texas who are living in an even higher state of emergency today, as we will continue to hold extremist officials accountable.”
“This is terrifying. Government seeking this kind of information (for no known legal reason) is clearly intended to intimidate people,” tweeted Jonathan Schwabish, a podcaster and senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center.
James Slattery, a “recovering lawyer and agitator for voting rights” in Austin, similarly said: “This is disgusting: TX AG Ken Paxton tried to use driver’s license data to compile a list of people in the state [who] are transgender. What a gross abuse of power for no apparent purpose than to harass law-abiding Texans that he’s prejudiced against.”
Texas-based digital strategist Sawyer Hackett asked, “What could he possibly need this info for—beyond harassment and persecution?”
“Trans Texans deserve better than to be policed and surveilled,” asserted the advocacy group UltraViolet, adding that Paxton “is performing an egregious act of state-sanctioned violence—rounding up records of people who have changed their gender identities.”
The Democratic Attorneys General Association declared that “Ken Paxton and Texas Republicans’ targeted attacks on trans Texans are despicable. LGBTQIA+ Texans have the right to live without fear of their lives being scrutinized or put in jeopardy.”
Some critics even drew comparisons to the Nazis.
“We’re horrified to hear TX AG Paxton’s office tried to seek detailed data on trans Texans,” said the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “Paxton and the Texas GOP have led effort after effort to attack transgender people. We must protect trans people who are being targeted by their state governments.”
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Jessica Corbett is a Common Dreams staff writer.