This Family Is Leaving Texas Because of Anti-Trans Bills
After 47 anti-LGBTQ bills in Texas’ legislature, Camille Rey and her trans son Leon reveal how the words and actions of Republican lawmakers have led the family to leave the state.
“If these laws were passed before I came out as transgender, I probably would not love myself and might not be alive,” Leon told The Daily Beast, via his mother Camille. “Sometimes, when people don’t love themselves, they kill themselves.”
Leon is determined to live a happy, full life. He loves basketball, swimming, and when he is older, he wants to be an engineer or a mathematician. But he has also heard other kids saying of trans children: “Freaks, all of you freaks.” Being transgender is hard, he recently said to his mother (their full, moving conversation is printed below).
“Is it hard because of being trans, or hard because of the way people treat you?” Camille asked her 8-year-old son.
“The way people treat me,” said Leon. “I need support.”
The impact of the debate around the so-far 47 anti-LGBTQ bills in Texas, many focused on trans youth’s access to gender-affirming health care and sports, has been so grave that families like the Reys are preparing to leave the state in favor of others that have anti-discrimination protections in order to keep their trans children happy, safe, and healthy. The Rey family will move to Maryland on Aug. 22; Leon will start third grade at his new school there on Aug. 30.
“Some people have said our decision has been forced. I disagree. I feel that I took a look at the situation, and made a decision,” Camille told The Daily Beast. “This is something I don’t want to deal with any more, and put my family through and my son through. I didn’t feel forced when I made the decision. The anti-trans bills in the state legislature here may not have become law this time. But they represented a threat, a possibility. It was more the sense that even if they don’t pass this time they’ll bring the bills back, and it just seemed a terrible way to live: to be in constant fear of the state government taking away our civil rights.”
“I’m going to miss all my friends, but I know Maryland is nicer and doesn’t have those laws,” Leon said.
When Rey heard about Arkansas passing a ban on gender-affirming health care in April—the first of its kind in the country, and recently blocked from taking effect—“I was like, ‘Oh crap. That means that’s coming here too.’ Sure enough, the bills started. In an instant I was throwing everything I have into fighting this. In that moment, I was trying to make Texas workable for us as a family. Like, ‘We’re not leaving. He’s going to need gender-affirming care. Puberty’s coming. These bills can’t happen.’
“We’ve evolved from this panic mode to fight to resolve. Just these bills being introduced is bad and harmful enough, and it’s time to go. I’m looking forward to our next adventure. We had our plans, but life had other plans, and that’s OK.”
Is Camille sad to leave Texas? “No, I’m not sad. I’m sad for the people who can’t leave.”
The bills in Texas were mirrored in hundreds of other anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ bills tabled in Republican legislatures across the country in the last session. As in Texas, those that did pass focused on access to trans youth health care and team sports, and the majority are now the subject of legal challenges.
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, told The Daily Beast that Republican legislators had tried to push through over 30 anti-LGBTQ bills in the regular legislative session from January to the end of May, and 17 in the special session this month—which became national news when Texas House Democrats left the state and headed to Washington D.C. in order to scupper the passage of Republicans’ so-called “election integrity” legislation. None of the proposed trans bans or restrictions has so far made it into law.
Two special session bills, SB 2 and SB 32, which were authored by Texas state Sen. Charles Perry, would ban trans athletes from the sports teams of their gender, and were passed in committee during the special session. “If you’re born a male or born a female, nothing can change that,” Perry said. Perry did not return requests from The Daily Beast for comment.
Other proposed bills in the special session include ones that would ban trans youth from receiving gender-affirming care, and mental health-care providers from providing care to youth considered “inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.”
With the Texas Democrats still in absentia in D.C., the anti-trans bills have stalled—for the moment. Just over a week ago, Abbott said he had a plan to pass a ban on gender-affirming health care, “And it’s about a finished product as we speak right now and may be announced as soon as this week,” he told a radio interview. In the regular session, the Texas Senate passed a bill doing the same, but it didn’t pass the House.
Abbott did not return requests from The Daily Beast for clarification about his proposed plan—as well as a number of other questions about the number and nature of the trans-related bans and restrictions he is seeking to make state law. “Governor Abbott has also said he would call a second special session if he needed to,” said Martinez.
Although Abbott did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment, in April he said on Fox News, “For five years, the University Interscholastic League in Texas has had a rule in place prohibiting boys from playing girls in girls’ sports. But the Texas Legislature is working on a bill to codify that, which I will sign.” (SB 29 was killed in May, before Perry’s variant was revived for the special session.)
In 2017, when trying to push through “a bathroom bill” widely condemned by businesses and advocacy groups, Abbott said he wanted a bathroom bill that “at a minimum… protects the privacy of our children in public schools.” The widely condemned SB 6 failed, and Abbott said a year later such a ban was no longer a priority. Three years on, he seems to have once again has identified trans rights as red meat for the Republican base.
Sen. Perry, who in this year’s regular session authored SB 1646, a bill which classified gender-affirming health care as child abuse, said in the Senate: “Those [decisions] should be left to when that child are mature enough in adulthood to understand the consequences of those decisions,” adding, “I’m asking, why do we want to do it when children can’t understand or comprehend the consequences of doing it. Let them be 18 and above, so they can probably understand… what it really means to do it. And they can go forward.”
“It’s just an effort to preserve the tradition, the history, and provide safe competition for women with their biological peer group,” Perry has said about his attempts to legislatively prevent trans kids from playing on teams according to their gender identity.
State Rep. Diego Bernal, who represents central San Antonio’s District 123, told The Daily Beast he had spoken to many Republican colleagues, who claim to him in private that they do not want to target trans kids personally, but are doing so politically and publicly for the sake of their own legislative careers. Bernal said many do not support the bills, but vote for them anyway. The lives of trans youth in Texas, said Bernal, are being imperiled because of their political ambitions.
Rep. Bernal is one of the Democrats who remains in Washington, determined to scupper Gov. Abbott and Republicans’ special session bills.
“It’s hard being away from home, being away from my daughter,” Bernal told The Daily Beast. “But we didn’t have a lot of options left.” Bernal said he hopes the Dems’ actions will help “buy time” to think of alternative options to Texas Republicans’ aims. He accepts that it may not work out, he said, “But we’re in the race. Whether we’re at the beginning, middle, or end of the relay remains to be seen.”
The Texas Republican animus towards trans kids seems to have come from “some sort of political edict, from a greater political power than themselves—whether it’s Donald Trump or a think tank or a polling organization,” said Bernal. “The phrase people use in the legislature is ‘Vote your district,’ i.e. when all else fails, vote the way your district would want you to. I asked my Republican colleagues about the trans bills, ‘Can you identify one instance with this issue arising in your district?’ To a person, they all said ‘No,’ to which I said, ‘Then what are you doing this for?’ Their answer is: ‘I really don’t like this. I wish I didn’t have to, but I have to or I’ll get primaried.’
“Their number one priority as legislators is just to self-perpetuate, or ‘What can I do to continue to do this?’ Actual governing I’m not sure is even second place for them. It is definitely not first.”
Rep. Bernal said the testimonies of trans kids, parents like Camille Rey, and other allies had “100 percent” pierced Republicans’ hearts and minds. “They’d say to me afterwards, ‘I wish I didn’t have to do this. We shouldn’t have to do this. We have other things to focus on. But once this comes to committee, then to the floor, I have to vote for it. I don’t have a choice at that point.’ They are choosing their re-election over the well-being of these children, which I have zero respect for,” Bernal said.
“This is not who we should be. When you start making decisions that fly in the face of your conscience because you want to stay in office, you’re obviously in office for the wrong reasons. If you’re not able to make a tough vote, or a tough decision, you might as well be a factory robot doing as you are programmed to do. There’s no independent thought, no heart, no defiance. There’s just compete compliance. That can’t be who we are. We’re talking about kids, man. These are children.”
Asked if his Republican colleagues showed any signs of regret over their actions, Rep. Bernal said, “I couldn’t tell you how much their vote haunts them after the fact, but it bothers them enough to come to me—someone who has passed anti-discrimination ordinances at the city level as a council person and then who has consistently filed anti-discrimination legislation in the House—and tell me how much it bothers them. But at the end of day they still do it. They’ll say, ‘Diego, if I don’t vote this way, I’m going to get primaried, and you’ll end up with someone worse.’
“And I say to them, ‘But if you vote for these bills anyway, what’s the difference?’ If any Texas Republican voted in the way their conscience held them to, and what they revealed in private conversation with me, not only would our state look a lot different, the Republican party’s policies would look a lot different too. This is all some sort of bulls**t virtue-signaling to the base.”
“To hear him say he didn’t love himself was quite a shock”
If Texas Republicans are behaving with the blithe political venality Rep. Bernal identifies, their actions are anything but trivial. The real-world consequences are severe.
Camille, a science writer, says the Rey family (which also includes husband Homero, daughter Alexandra, 12, son Gabriel, 17, and Camille’s father Luis Mojica Jr.) became aware of Leon’s transition two years ago when he began to wear short hair and boys’ clothes. Since then, his parents have allowed him to change his name to a boy’s name, and change his pronouns.
She recalled that Leon had overheard Camille talking to Alexandra, her 12-year old daughter. “I was trying to impress upon her about loving herself and Leon pipes up, ‘I don’t love myself.’ Of course, as a mother of a 7-year-old, you think ‘What?’ It was very surprising to hear that from him. He was a very outgoing kid, very active. He used to run all over the neighborhood, climbing trees with the other kids. In some ways he was the most gregarious member of the family. To hear him say he didn’t love himself was quite a shock.”
Over a period of time, with Leon taking the lead, he came out as transgender. The passage and debate around the bills has been “tumultuous, painful, really, really hard for Leon specifically,” said Camille. Seeking to ensure he was not harassed at school, she and husband Homero had just put Leon in a private school started by parents of an LGBTQ student. He did well in the fall semester.
After the Texas bills were introduced and began getting publicity, Leon began getting painful stomach-aches and feeling nauseous. It went on for around three months. “The school called me to say his personality had completely changed. He was no longer the kid who made the other kids laugh. He was very distracted and not finishing his work. He was absent from school so much he barely met the requirement of passing second grade.” Now, his happier self has returned, and therapy and extra tuition means he will be ready to begin third grade in Maryland, Camille says.
Camille puts his ailments and change of behavior down to the passage and discussion of the bills.
When Leon had his stomach-aches, Camille realized he was very good at hiding his feelings. She has been honest with him about why the family is leaving. “I had heard of other trans kids saying to their families, ‘This is all my fault,’ when it obviously isn’t,” Camille said. “I’m glad he’s never said that to us. I hope it means he doesn’t feel it, but you never know.”
Right from the outset, Camille, like many parents of trans kids, resolved to fight for her son. She went to Austin to address lawmakers, even as anti-trans protesters shouted at her, she recalled, “Look at them, they celebrate the mutilation of children.”
Camille said she was “horrified that we were being attacked in broad daylight on Capitol grounds. I came home and told my husband how traumatizing it was. Now I see it as eye-opening. When the bills didn’t pass, my husband said, ‘Yes, we get to stay.’ I said, ‘No, this shows the environment.’ I wasn’t comfortable with our school district. Now I’m not comfortable living in the state. The choice we had to make is: where do I want to raise my child? Over five and a half years we’ve collected the data, and I think ‘Texas is not that place.’”
Camille knows there are other families like hers, who are considering leaving Texas. She has “great sympathy” for those who, because of material and other circumstances, are not able to do so. One family is planning a move to Colorado; another man with a trans child is a Canadian citizen and contemplating relocating there, “which really reminds me of what people said when Bush and Trump were elected.”
“Regardless of where our LGBTQ constituents call home in Texas, they have something in common,” Ricardo Martinez told The Daily Beast. “They’re living through the worst year in state LGBTQ legislative attacks on their personhood. There have been close on 50 attempts to undermine LGBTQ equality here in Texas this year. So far, we and a large coalition of organizations have held the line. But there is a real ferocity on the part of the folks committed to the marginalization of an already marginalized people. There is a lot of fear-mongering about the lives of LGBTQ people fueled by discrimination here in Texas. The political climate only increases those risks.”
Martinez pointed to the deaths of Aidelen Evans, Tiffany Thomas, and Iris Santos, “all transgender Texans who have lost their lives to violence in 2021. Texas is a leading state in a national emergency which is the murders of Black and brown trans women. I wish lawmakers were focused on solving that rather than this fictitious emergency.”
Of the proposed trans bans and restrictions, Rep. Bernal said Texas Republicans liked to create “some sort of bogeyman, group, or community to kick to prove their far-right credentials while at the time deflecting from the real issues they should be dealing with. This time, it’s the trans community, and trans youth in particular.”
Bernal is particularly horrified that Republicans are targeting not just children, “but this group of young people who, we have shown our Republican colleagues again and again in public and private, is especially vulnerable. Trans kids have some of the highest suicide rates both in terms of attempts and actual suicide relative to any other group. And we’ve also demonstrated to them that even when legislation isn’t passed, the mere conversation of it creates a spike in cries for help.”
When the trans youth sports ban was being debated in the regular session, Bernal pointed out to his colleagues that “if we looked at our own state’s bullying legislation that the filing of this bill, the discussion of this bill, and the passing of the bill would have satisfied all the elements of the bullying statute. That’s what we are doing to these kids. And the Republicans were unmoved by that. The thing about Texas politics I will never get used to is the cruelty and indifference shown to children, whether trans youth or just youth health care in general.”
The “trickle-down” of the debates around the new bills, said Martinez, had been seen in an increase in bullying and violence against transgender youth in the state.
In January, a teacher in Abernathy, TX, had contacted Equality Texas to report a surge in bullying at their school since a student had come out as trans. In March, another teacher in La Porte, TX, asked Equality Texas for resources to make schools more welcoming for trans and non-binary students, having seen trans students become victims of bullying, threats, and intimidation.
Another teacher called in April, saying they had seen the worst bullying—in their 16-year career—aimed at trans kids. A mother called Equality Texas to say her lesbian daughter had heard a bully threatening to shoot all the LGBTQ kids at their school.
“The truth is this is a state crisis for LGBTQ kids,” said Martinez. “And because Texas has such a national impact on politics, I consider this to be a national crisis.”
In May, when Senate Bill 29—the bill seeking to ban trans kids from playing sports on teams corresponding with their gender identity—was being debated, Trans Lifeline saw a 72 percent increase in calls from Texas area codes compared to the previous year.
Bri Barnett, Director of Advancement for Trans Lifeline, told The Daily Beast that people called the hotline when “transphobic legislation is being considered at all levels.” Parents call about relocating from states considering trans youth-focused bans and restrictions, concerned their child will not be able to access adequate health care. Trans people call to say the bills are proof society doesn’t want them, or welcome their presence, or makes them feel that their safety and wellbeing has been imperiled.
“Generally, we see a spike in calls when there are political events like this, because of the politicization and targeting of trans people,” Barnett said. “When the community is targeted, that has a negative impact on the mental health of tarns people. It’s not just that the bills cause harm to trans people if they pass, or if they are implemented. The very fact they are being actively being considered causes harm to trans people. Those legislators are materially harming trans kids and trans adults.”
“It’s unfortunate they choose to try and legislate things they don’t understand”
Camille Rey grew up in Texas. “I’m half-Mexican, half-Puerto Rican. I dealt with racism and sexism growing up here.” She is a sixth generation Texan, born in San Antonio, and raised in Austin. She went to the University of Texas then University of California, Berkeley to study for her PhD where she met Homero. “It’s been fun coming back and showing the kids where I waited tables, grew up, and went to high school.”
She sees her and her family’s experience today as part of a very personal historical timeline. “My mother put up with bigotry sanctioned by the state. She used to see signs, saying, ‘No Mexicans, No Negroes.’ She used to have to pay a quarter if she said something in Spanish in school. My great grandmother and two of her kids were killed by a drunk driver, who it was rumored saw a long line of Mexicans and thought he’d give them a scare and plowed into them. He served two years. It’s a legacy of injustice. Well, not any more. I grew up with those stories. It never occurred to my mother to leave. She just accepted that’s the way it was. She only had a high school education. One time she did leave she moved to California for a while she missed her family, so she came back.”
After living in California themselves, the Rey family moved back to Texas five and a half years ago. Had the bills not been tabled at the velocity they have been in Texas, Camille and her family would have stayed, “but with one eye on the door.” While many people in the community have been supportive, her daughter has been called a “lesbo” because she has short hair, a friend’s son who is half-Spanish, a quarter Cuban and a quarter Mexican has been told to “fuck off back to Mexico” by a fellow student, while another student called a parent from India a “sand (n-word).”
“There is a lot of stuff here I don’t want my kids around,” Camille said. “So I probably wanted to make the change, but had it not been for the bills I wouldn’t have made it so fast.” Had they stayed, Leon would have returned to public school (because of the cost of sending him to private school), which would have put Camille on edge, wondering if the teachers and kids were respecting his selfhood.
Camille sounded understandably weary when this reporter asked what she would say to Texas Republicans. She has said it before. She wonders why she would need to say it at all. “All you want is what is best for your child. I would ask the Republican legislators to spend time with us and meet our children, and realize we are not the child abusers they are making us out to be. If anything, we are very involved in our children’s lives. We get them the best medical and psychological care we can afford. It’s unfortunate they choose to try and legislate things they don’t understand.”
“Our community is exhausted,” said Ricardo Martinez of Equality Texas. “Every time there is a bill we have to go into the state legislature to defend our humanity. That has detrimental effects for everyone involved. Texas is a ginormous state. People come to the capital, driving hours and hours without a guarantee they will be able to speak. The hearings can be 12, 16, 17 hours. Then they have to leave for work the next day. Parents need to go home. Others spend money staying overnight.
“There is emotional labor, and the trauma for those who have been fighting these bills for years. It’s a lot. And then there are the anti-LGBTQ legislators trying to marginalize trans people early in their lives which will have a long-term impact for them. These kinds of laws have been introduced before, but not in this way. It feels incredibly heavy. Parents are sitting around dining-room tables, making their exit plans. They don’t have faith in the direction we’re moving in the right direction when it comes to keeping their children safe.”
Given the pattern of bill-making in previous years, Equality Texas had been expecting up to 24 anti-LGBTQ bills this year; they had not expected 30, with an additional 17 in the special session.
Martinez has always enjoyed politics. As a junior he was a keen high-school debater, and thought that respectful agreement and disagreement was a key component in productive political discourse. “But respect and objectivity has been missing in the treatment Texas lawmakers have offered trans kids and their parents. It’s been hard to watch,” he said. “Young people of color were patronized and other witnesses abruptly dismissed. I know how much courage it takes to speak, and they felt disillusioned afterwards—as if they had done something wrong, after they had been attacked.”
Camille recalled testifying in front of committees whose Republican members asked questions revealed that “they don’t know what they are talking about. They don’t understand what it’s like to be a parent or child in this situation. They don’t understand that being trans is not a choice. They don’t understand that children do know who they are. They talked about science when it came to sports, without understanding a lot of science behind trans medical care is not random but built on decades of research.
“We as parents study this. If you come up against something in life you know nothing about that is affecting your child, what do you do? You go and learn about it, figure it out, listen to the experts, do the best for your kid to keep them safe, healthy, alive, and well. I honestly…” Camille sighed. “Since being involved with this we have met a lot of people. We meet people on the fence, and you try to appeal to, whatever, their better nature. But I have never met with Governor Abbott. I wish I could. I wish I could explain to him that these are people’s, children’s, lives. They are not to be played with like this, especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Republican legislators’ “bulls**t virtue signaling” to the Republican base is important in primaries, said Rep. Bernal, because well-funded organizations and lobby groups pounce on candidates not seen as being right-wing enough. If deemed insufficiently hardline-conservative, they may face other more extreme candidates in the primaries, said Bernal.
“So, to survive the primary they file and support bills to satisfy the far-right base, and we end up with bills that defy reality like the trans athlete and election bills, both of which do not address anything happening in reality,” Bernal said, sighing. He takes small comfort that “Republicans are learning the public appetite for all this isn’t nearly as great as they thought. People want legislators to focus on the surge in COVID cases and electric grid. For me, the overall ethos should be, ‘Leave kids alone, unless it’s to provide them with more health care.’”
“What’s so exhausting about this is that you’re having to go to your government and fight for the humanity of your child,” said Camille. “And then those legislators call you a child abuser. How twisted is that? Personally, I would hope that legislators go to these meetings with open minds, but every time we show up and speak, and they see the real faces of real parents and real kids, they still vote the way they do.” Camille noted the special bravery of those who spoke at the special session, without the supportive firewall of Democratic legislators.
“I think when I sat there and looked in their eyes, and told them my story and told them that this is how long my family has been here and now we’re leaving… I feel like I saw something. You could see some things register with them, but then it doesn’t seem to make a difference in how they vote. Then you realize no matter how persuasive your testimony, it won’t change their vote, which is horrifying. They are supposed to be open to listening to us, but we don’t feel listened to. I know it’s a highly polarized political system, but it’s hurting people and causing gridlock.”
She does wish the 70 percent of Texans think that discrimination against LGBTQ people is wrong showed themselves more visibly at pro-equality rallies and supported trans rights in public more loudly.
For Camille, Republicans’ transphobia is rooted in “making children an easy target. Nothing pulls at the heartstrings as much as making people feel like children are being abused. Nobody wants that. But we are not abusing our children. It did seem strange, surreal and completely unnecessary to have to say, ‘I am not a child abuser because I am following best practice medical care for my kid.’ That seems ridiculous, so insane. It’s mind-boggling. And so I feel the people I was talking to do not represent me. I don’t know they represent apart from themselves, and following the game plan set down by their fearless leader, the governor, I guess. They take marching orders, and don’t care who they march over to get it done.”
Like Donald Trump, Gov. Abbott is seeking to energize a far-right voter base, Camille thinks. “I don’t hold it against anyone who doesn’t understand trans issues. If it’s not happening in your family, you’re not going to know about it. That’s why we’re trying to educate lawmakers and the public. People have complimented me on speaking to the media, but I say, ‘Well, they’ve got to know what we look like. We’re not weird monsters or child abusers—just normal people trying to do what’s best for our kids.’”
After our conversation, Camille emailed this reporter. “Just a thought,” she wrote. “It’s hard to be sad about leaving a state that threatens the health and well-being of your family. It’s hard to be sad about leaving a state that doesn’t want you, never has.”
“I can choose to leave. I just don’t trust Texas”
Maryland, Camille Rey said, not only has strong anti-discrimination laws in place, but is also a place where Leon as a young trans person will be able to access proper health-care support and be able to play sports according to his gender identity. It also has a thriving science community to support Camille’s career and her husband, who works in biotech.
The family includes Camille’s father, who will have his own apartment in the basement of the family’s new home. “It’s not a dungeon or anything,” she laughed. “The house is on a hill. He has windows. I was living in California when my mother died. It was a very terrible experience. Him coming with us puts my mind at ease.”
Homero is feeling the impact of the family’s move keenly. He has a “dream job” in Texas, which he will keep doing remotely. But during the pandemic, he and a very close team of colleagues built an impactful COVID-testing system. “It’s the closest to paradise we have ever come,” he has said of living in Texas: a short commute, lovely home, fantastic job.
That has caused “some friction” with Camille, she says, who has gone through experiences such as Leon’s pediatrician (now ex-pediatrician) informing Camille she would not support changing his gender marker, or use his chosen pronouns. Homero, said Camille, didn’t sit through Republican-voting parents “giving me the third degree about letting my child’s transition. And although he watched the livestream, he didn’t sit through all the testimony in Austin. And Leon was leaning on me throughout. I told my husband, ‘You haven’t been through all I’ve been through. I have no qualms. I’m out.’”
Camille notes that she and her husband are from a more mobile generation. “My parents may not have been able to choose, but I can choose to leave. I just don’t trust Texas. Even in my own neighborhood you see a certain truck, a certain flag, and worry for your safety. At the HEB parking lot store you see a Confederate flag, and you think, ‘Oh god, I hope they don’t follow me out of here.’ PTA members leave Trump signs up past the election. On Facebook, people say a Proud Boy lives in our neighborhood. It’s not comfortable. It’s just not. Friends say, ‘You can’t escape it, there’s bigotry everywhere.’ But I’ve lived in other states where I didn’t feel unsafe on a daily basis.
“My husband has said that we left California as economic refugees, and now it feels like we’re leaving Texas as political refugees—which is ironic as his parents fled Cuba to escape a dictator with him inside his mom’s belly. This is history repeating itself. They wanted to be engineers, but the Cuban government wanted his father to work for the telephone company for the rest of his life. They left Cuba, came to New York City, went to night school and got degrees in engineering. They left to be who they wanted to be, and now we’re leaving so Leon can be who he wants to be.”
Ricardo Martinez, who has lived in Texas for two years, retains some optimism about LGBTQ people’s future in the state. “There is a tremendous amount of kindness here. It’s called ‘the friendship state’ for a reason. 70 percent of Texans believe discrimination against LGBTQ people is wrong. But the 30 per cent fringe minority is loud and vocal, so lawmakers feel the pressure of the electorate who want them to go extreme. Elections are coming up, so maybe they are pandering to that minority. Hope is eternal for me, but the fact is Texas has shown a propensity to prioritize these kinds of bills, and we’ll be ready to fight them.”
Martinez hopes lawmakers will listen to the majority of Texans who believe anti-LGBTQ discrimination is wrong, and focus on issues such as the state’s energy grid and equitable access to health care. “But actions speak louder than words, and I think they’re more preoccupied with further marginalizing the LGBTQ community. I just don’t understand it.”
Whatever happens in the first special session, whatever happens in a second, whatever Gov. Abbott’s plan around trans youth health care is, Rep. Bernal says more youth-focused trans bills and restrictions are “inevitable.” It remains to be seen how much traction they will generate, Bernal says Texas Democrats will continue to try to neutralize and de-fang them as much as possible.
“It was gut-wrenching, soul-crushing” for Bernal to watch trans kids and their families plead for their humanity in the legislature. He returns, audibly angry and disbelieving, to the Republican colleagues he says who are cynically presiding over stripping trans people of their rights.
“We’re talking about children, and you’re sacrificing their well-being and mental health and school experience so you can win an election, and then do it again. How do we get to this point where this is considered governing by mostly grown men? Their re-election is coming at such a high cost. It is so disheartening. But we will stay in the ring, in the arena, and fight for trans kids and their families. We just have to keep at it.”
“I don’t think I will be sad to go, but rather resolved,” Camille said of the Rey family’s imminent move. “Going, gone, out. You can’t kick me around any more, people.” She is looking forward to a new house in the D.C. suburbs, a return to full time writing, and—most of all—for Leon and the family to feel safe.
“I look forward to him being a kid again, and not worrying about this stuff,” Camille said. “Just being a kid, and causing trouble like other 8-year-old boys do. Exploring his new home.” Leon’s new school has been very welcoming, and is very sensitive “to his needs going forward,” said Camille, noting they are moving from a school district hostile to teaching kids about racism to one which has a course in LGBTQ issues.
“I’m looking forward to a completely different environment. The Texas bills made even occasions like Mother’s Day and Easter feel muted. Nobody in our family felt celebratory or carefree. We were all five of us at some level of depression. It got to the point of bracing yourself going online or watching the news to fear what horrible thing you would find there and what it would mean to your family. I don’t want to live like that, and do it repeatedly.”
Camille wants to continue fighting for trans and LGBTQ civil rights, “but just without this constant, daily cloud over our heads. This legislation has made our children depressed. This is no joke. These are people’s lives. It is infuriating, and not an acceptable way to live. And I truly feel sorry for people who don’t have a choice.”
After we spoke, I asked Camille Rey if it was possible to send her some questions for Leon to answer—under the strict proviso that only if Camille, as his parent, and Leon himself were both happy to do so. Camille agreed, and to my questions she added a few of her own. It led to this exchange.
The Daily Beast: How have the last few months been for Leon to go through?
Leon Rey: Pretty tough, cuz a lot of people don’t really understand.
Camille Rey: What don’t they understand?
Leon: They don’t understand how being transgender works.
TDB: Has he been aware of, or experienced, prejudice and bigotry? Does he know what those things mean?
Camille: Prejudice is where someone judges you because you’re transgender. Bigotry is someone being mean to you because of it.
Leon: No. Not, yet. No one has said anything directly to me. I just hear people say bad things about all people who are transgender. They have not said anything to my face.
Camille: What have you heard people say?
Leon: Um, like “You shouldn’t do that,” “That’s destroying your body,” and “Freaks, all of you freaks.”
TDB: How does he feel about the anti-trans laws under consideration, and so aimed at trans minors (kids) like him?
Leon: I feel like they don’t have any empathy, and they don’t know how hard it is to get hated for just not feeling comfortable in your body.
TDB: How does he feel about Texas, and leaving Texas to live in Maryland?
Leon: I’m going to miss all my friends, but I know Maryland is nicer and doesn’t have those laws.
Camille: You know that not only do they not have those bad laws, they have good laws that protect you, right?
TDB: How does he see his own identity, and his future?
Leon: What do you mean see?
Camille: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Leon: I want to be an engineer or a mathematician.
Camille: Right now you identify as a transgender boy, right?
Leon: Um hum.
Camille: How do you see your future gender?
Leon: A male.
TDB: If he could say anything to Gov. Abbott and Republican legislators, what would he say?
Leon: If these laws were passed before I came out as transgender, I probably would not love myself and might not be alive.
Camille: Why would you not be alive, sweetheart?
Leon: Sometimes, when people don't love themselves they kill themselves.
Camille: Do you think you would do something like that?
Leon: I don’t know. I said I “might.”
TDB: How does he feel about the future, for himself, and trans kids like him?
Camille: Do you feel happy, worried, hopeful that the future will be fine and good?
Leon: Hmm. I’m a little worried.
Camille: What are you worried about?
Leon: That they may not love themselves and not have confidence, and if you don’t have confidence you won’t accomplish that many things and have a good life.
Camille: Why do you think trans kids won’t love themselves, or have confidence?
Leon: If you’re not comfortable in your body you don’t love yourself.
Camille: Does that make it more important that trans kids have medical care and play sports?
Leon: Yeah, like I love basketball. If we were not moving out of Texas and the sports bill passed, I probably would not be able to play basketball in middle school, high school, or college.
Camille: What about the importance of trans kids having access to gender-affirming care? Why is having that access important?
Leon: So you can feel comfortable in your body. If we weren’t moving out of Texas, like I wouldn’t feel comfortable in my body and it would be a lot of money to go out of state to get the gender-affirming care I want and need so that I could love myself more and feel comfortable. And it would be a lot of money. In Maryland, it will be less money because we wouldn’t have to buy a plane ticket to go to another state to get care.
Camille: How would it make you feel to have to go out of state?
Leon: It would make me feel that the Texas state government is always mean.
Camille: Would it make you feel bad about yourself?
Camille: Anything else you want to tell the reporter, or his readers?
Leon: I went swimming yesterday, and it was fun. I hope I persuaded you to support me, because it’s hard being transgender.
Camille: Is it hard because of being trans, or hard because of the way people treat you?
Leon: The way people treat me. I need support.
Camille: Do you feel happier than when you were having tummy aches ?
Camille: Why do you feel happier?
Leon: I think therapy is working.
Camille: What is therapy changing for you?
Leon: I don’t know.
Camille: Anything else?
Leon: Yesterday we went to martial arts class. I’m sore and my muscles got harder. That’s what Papi said: “When muscles are sore, they are getting bigger.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860.