DALLAS - Top Republican leaders in Texas this week weighed in on two parents' battle over their 7-year-old child's gender identity after the case was shared widely on social media and conservative news sites.
Former spouses Anne Georgulas and Jeffrey Younger, who live in the Dallas area, have been embroiled in a legal dispute over their divorce and the care of their children since 2015. Georgulas says the couple's 7-year-old who was born a boy now identifies as a girl and prefers to be called a female name. Younger, who says the child acts like a boy around him, asked to be the sole decision-maker and launched a website in which he pleads for help to "save" his child.
Inaccurate and misleading stories about the 7-year-old have since circulated in blogs, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and petitions, bringing attention to a usually private matter.
The Associated Press is not naming the 7-year-old to protect the child's privacy.
Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Wednesday evening that the attorney general's office and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were looking into "the matter" of the child. And on Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was asking Family and Protective Services to investigate the mother for possible child abuse, citing "public reports" in a letter that alleges she is "forcing" the child to transition to a girl.
However, Judge Kim Cooks in Dallas said Thursday during a hearing that the court noted no abuse, neglect or family violence in the case. Cooks ruled that the parents would make joint decisions about the child.
The judge scolded the father, who she noted was unemployed, for seeking publicity on the case and raising money on his website, but she also pointed out how the mother testified that her encouragement of the child being transgender may have been excessive.
"The father finds comfort in public controversy and attention surrounded by his use of unfounded facts and is thus motivated by financial gain," Cooks said, adding that the gain came "at the cost of the protection and privacy of his children."
Much of the public reaction to the case has focused on backing the narrative laid out on the father's website, which features a headline saying he's fighting "chemical castration and sex-change of his son."
A post of a woman holding a baby shared widely on Facebook targets the mother, saying she "always wanted a girl."
Cooks said Thursday that no Texas court or judge has ordered "the chemical castration, puberty blockers, hormone blockers or any transgender reassignment surgery on this child to become a female."
Attorneys for Georgulas, who is a pediatrician, said before the hearing that she was "being viciously attacked and threatened by complete strangers based on false and untrue statements." Cooks said she limited spectators to only the media at the hearing because of safety concerns.
Earlier this month, Georgulas filed a proposed parenting plan that said the child isn't yet at an age where treatment with hormonal suppression, puberty blockers or gender reassignment surgery is considered. And she asked the court to not allow any such treatment without the consent of both parents.
Dr. Stephen Rosenthal, medical director for the University of California San Francisco's Child and Adolescent Gender Center, says that often when parents disagree about potential medical treatment it's "likely because there's a possibility that they may be misinformed about what the treatment actually is" or if it would even be considered at the child's age.
He said a puberty blocker temporarily puts puberty on pause and is a safe medication that has most commonly been given to kids who go into puberty much too early. He said that before the onset of puberty, there's "no role" for medical intervention in a person who might be transgender.
Cooks said the court found that both parents love their children, and she noted the 7-year-old appears comfortable as a male or female.
Younger told the AP before Thursday's hearing that the child identifies as a boy when at his house.
Asked after the hearing if he was happy with the outcome, Younger didn't comment and only smiled and nodded.
Silber reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed.