The state of Texas has removed a webpage that offered resources to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth after one of Governor Greg Abbott’s Republican challengers said the content was “offensive” and not in line with “Texas values.”
The takedown came shortly after the candidate, Don Huffines, denounced the website in a video which he shared on Twitter.
“They promote transgender sexual policies for Texas youth,” Mr. Huffines said. “I’m serious? This is Texel. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values. But these are clearly Greg Abbott’s values.”
Patrick Crimmins, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said the page was removed from the department’s website six weeks ago “as part of a review.”
But the decision to disable the page got more attention this week after The Houston Chronicle reported on emails from internal agencies showing officials were concerned about Mr Huffines’ comments.
Mr. Huffines, a former Dallas senator and the owner of a real estate development company, announced in May that he would challenge Mr. Abbott in the March Republican primary and has touted himself as the more conservative candidate. Mr. Abbott is seeking a third term.
“FYI. This is starting to explode on Twitter,” a department official, Marissa Gonzales, wrote on the day Mr. Huffines posted the video, according to copies of the emails the agency provided to The New York Times.
Ms. Gonzales, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in the email that Mr. Huffines referred to a web page for a program called Texas Youth Connection. The page provided online resources for children and teens in state care and had a section titled “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.”
“Please note that we may need to remove that page or revise the content in some way,” Mr Crimmins wrote to agency officials.
On Sept. 1, the agency’s communications manager sent an email to the webmaster explaining that “The Texas Youth Connection (TYC) website has been temporarily shut down for a comprehensive review of its content.”
“This is done to ensure that the information, resources and references are current,” the email said.
Mr Abbott’s office did not respond to messages for comment.
The page was taken down less than a month before parents of transgender children protested at the Texas Capitol in Austin, where the state Senate has repeatedly passed laws requiring transgender teen and child athletes to compete based on their gender. birth is assigned rather than their gender identity.
The decision to delete the webpage outraged LGBTQ rights activists and organizations, who accused Mr Abbott of putting his political interests ahead of the safety and well-being of marginalized young people.
“Government agencies know that LGBTQ+ children are overrepresented in foster care and they know they face truly staggering discrimination and abuse,” Ricardo Martinez, the director of Equality Texas, a rights group, said in a statement. “The state is responsible for the lives of these children, but has actively taken resources away from them when they are in crisis.”
Mr. Martinez said the site was taken down at the start of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. He cited statistics from the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, which showed that gay, transgender and non-binary youth who have been in foster care are much more likely to attempt suicide.
“This year again and again,” he added, “we simply ask that the lives of these children not be politicized.”
Before it was taken down, the Texas Youth Connection page contained contact information for organizations and hotlines that could help LGBTQ youth who were feeling depressed, bullied or suicidal, according to screenshots from the pages the agency provided. The section on “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” was three pages long and featured a photo of smiling young people holding a rainbow flag.
“The educational and support resources on this page are designed to empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, interrogative, intersex, asexual, ally and non-heterosexual (LGBTQIA+) youth, their peers and family,” the statement read. site said. “Having support and resources is critical to meeting the needs of youth and young adults.”
On Thursday, the Department of Family and Protective Services still had a link to a 2019 webinar that discussed how inequalities in child welfare systems disproportionately impacted LGBTQ youth and children of color.