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Texas AG’s office requests list of Texans who changed gender on their driver’s license

Members of the Travis County Commissioners Court participate in a flag-raising ceremony at the Travis County Administrative Building in downtown Austin, TX to fly a Progress Pride flag for the first time on June 29, 2021. The Progress Pride flag builds on
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Some transgender Texans have raised concerns following a report that the Texas attorney general requested lists from the Department of Public Safety showing who had changed the gender on their driver's license over the past two years.

The Texas Attorney General’s office requested a list from the Texas Department of Public Safety in June, showing all Texans who changed the gender on their driver’s license over the past two years, according to The Washington Post.

The AG’s office did not receive the records, because DPS does not keep the specific information that was asked for. But some people are concerned that drawing up such a list could lead to a state-sponsored assault on the rights of transgender Texans.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske broke the story. She spoke to the Texas Standard about obtaining the records, and the response from the AG’s office. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Can you say more about what Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office asked for with this request?

Molly Hennessy-Fiske: Sure. So I had heard that something was afoot. And I requested this information last month from both agencies – both the AG’s office and the Department of Public Safety, which includes the agency that handles driver’s licenses. And the AG’s office, when I asked them both for the records that they had requested from DPS and any associated emails or communications, they said “well, we don’t have anything to give you.”

But DPS turned over a number of emails, a spreadsheet of some of the data they’d gone over. And it was clear from that, because the email’s subject lines were “AG’s request,” it was clear what they were working on and that it was at the behest of the AG’s office.

Well, what did the Texas attorney general’s office have to say about why they wanted this data and how they intended to use it? 

Well, that was interesting, too, because when I first submitted my requests in writing – a public records request – one of the assistants to Ken Paxton, one of the other attorneys in the office, started responding. And her first questions to me were, “Why do you want this? Why do you think that we have this?” And I had that in writing, and I included it in the story. But I responded to her by citing public records law in Texas, saying, “I don’t need to tell you why I want it, and I would really like to know why you have it, and that’s why I’m requesting it.”

And it’s interesting. In the course of requesting it, I found out from DPS – from a spokesman – that the reason why they told me they didn’t have emails about the request and probably why the AG’s office said “oh we don’t have any emails about this” is because they requested it verbally and they went around the normal channels of requesting it – the General Counsel’s Office at DPS or Government Affairs – and went directly to the driver’s license division chief and asked for it. So it’s interesting.

I’m glad that we did get some kind of records to corroborate what I had heard. And I did follow up and talk to some transgender Texans who had changed their licenses during that time period who were pretty concerned about it.

What did they tell you? What was their reaction to this news?

Well, I learned something, which was they had avoided changing their driver’s license because they saw it as a vulnerability – as letting the state know who they were and their personal information and kind of like a potential outing of them. One of the people I talked to, who’s transgender female and goes by “she/her,” had said it felt like a political attack or that there was some sort of political attack being readied and she really felt uncomfortable knowing that Paxton’s office had requested this.

Well, this comes after an advisory opinion from the attorney general’s office in which the AG said that gender-affirming care could be considered child abuse under Texas law. This was hotly contested, but something that Gov. Abbott latched on to in ordering CPS to investigate families providing gender-affirming care for their kids. Could you say more about what potential use the AG might have for this information? 

Well I talked to some lawyers – a lawyer at Lambda Legal who’s represented some of those families in cases that were brought against the state of Texas after both Ken Paxton and Gov. Abbott had issued orders and legal opinions against them, alleging that gender-affirming care was child abuse. And the lawyers who I talked to said their concern is that there’s a sort of second phase of that and the next phase of that political attack would be going after adults, as well.

They started with children and their families and trying to block them from receiving any kind of gender-affirming care, like hormone blockers or things like that. And that they then might go after adults and the trans individuals I talked to were very concerned about that because they had both already transitioned, have been taking hormones, and that could really jeopardize their health if they lost access to that.

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