In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott calls it “child abuse” for parents to provide transgender children with medical care that supports their gender identity. In February, he asked state officials to investigate them and called on the public to report cases of minors receiving such care.
This caused panic in an Air Force family living in San Antonio.
“We weren’t sure if this was immediately a witch hunt or if they really had legal status,” said B, a military spouse who asked to use her first initial for fear of reprisal. “Did that mean they could come and knock on our door and take our child away from us?” We just didn’t know.
B and her husband have a teenage daughter who came out as trans a few years ago. Their daughter goes to a private off-base doctor, where she received puberty blockers, mental health counseling and hormone replacement therapy.
“My first reaction was that we had to pack up and get out of here,” B explained.
Although B’s initial instinct was to leave the state, the move isn’t easy for the military, who typically have little choice as to where they’re stationed.
But as states like Texas and Florida began adopting policies hostile to LGBTQ people and their families, the Air Force released a statement.
“We are closely monitoring state laws and legislation to ensure we prepare for and mitigate the effects on our Airmen, guardians and their families,” said Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones. “Medical, legal and various aid resources are available for those in need.”
Jones told Air Force and Space Force members they could be transferred to states they deemed safer for their LGBTQ dependents.
“The Department of the Air Force and the Department of Defense do not take a position on these laws one way or the other. But we know they can impact our families,” she said in an interview.
Jones said troops can take advantage of a Defense Department-wide initiative called the Exceptional Family Member Program. It’s a way for service members to let service members know about the special medical needs of their family members, so they can be posted to duty stations that can help them.
“We care about all of our airmen, all of our goalies,” Jones said. “Frankly, I need people focused on the mission, not worrying about whether their child is going to be denied health care.”
Army, Navy and Marine Corps officials said they would also consider applications for resettlement under the program.
Advocates said the Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP, provides a good structure to support military families with LGBTQ dependents. But they said it’s not standardized across different service bases and branches – and few people know about it.
Bree Fram of transgender rights organization SPARTA said administrators sometimes don’t know how to support families with transgender children.
“We’ve heard mixed reactions from people about it, with some going to their EFMP coordinators and being told, ‘No, that’s not something we do.'”
Others said there was a stigma around using the program.
“Some people think it’s career ending, which it might be. Because you’re limited to certain basics, and the ability to progress in your job is limited based on that,” Jennifer Dane said, director of the Modern Military Association of America.
Although families have their moves approved through the program, resettlement times are long and no financial support is provided to families who decide to live apart because of the needs of their children.
B, the Air Force spouse in San Antonio, has no intention of using the program — at least for relocation — because it’s not confidential. B said she should come before a committee and take her daughter out.
“That shouldn’t even be a conversation we have,” she said. “Why would I take my child out of this group of people and bring something so personal into the public sphere, just so we can be safe?”
Gender-affirming care is available at some military medical facilities, but wait times are often long. Many small clinics do not have the capacity to offer it. But even if the military could guarantee support and medical care for her daughter, B admits there is little she can do to protect her family from discrimination.
“I don’t think at this point the military can do anything to make us feel safer. Because state laws will still be in place whether the military makes changes or not,” she said.
“I think families are going to be discouraged. The more laws passed, the fewer places we will feel safe. It’s going to push people out of the military.”
Gina Ortiz Jones, the Air Force undersecretary, said in June that she doesn’t know of anyone who has yet taken advantage of the program because of the state’s LGBTQ policies.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.