PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Karen’s daughter was 3, she knew how she felt. She didn’t know the word “trans” but she knew how she felt. She felt like a girl.
“I just shot that down real quick,” Karen told KOIN 6 News. “‘You’re not a girl, you’re a boy. You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to be a girl to like girl things.'”
But the feeling didn’t ever go away.
“I just saw her disappearing into herself and she came to me in the kitchen again. She was 6 years old and she said, ‘Mom, I’m a girl.’ And I repeated the same thing, ‘You don’t have to be a girl to like girl things.’ She went, ‘I know. But I’m a girl who likes girl things.’ And she just held my gaze,” Karen said. “I knew. And I knew she meant it and I didn’t understand but it was my job to find out because I’m her mom.”
Karen’s love for her child turned into advocacy — in Texas, where she, her husband and children lived.
In 2021, Karen joined other people rallying at the state capital in Austin against a slate of bills targeting health care for transgender children, like puberty blockers, or even seeking therapy from a behavioral health provider.
The bills and the attacks were relentless. The attacks focused on their health care, tried to go after providers of care that has been deemed best-practice medical care by literally every major medical association. After advocates and some push back from the business community, many of the bills did not pass that session.
Then in 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott — facing primary challenges to his reelection — ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate providing gender-affirming care as child abuse. He also ordered the parents who provided it to their children to be investigated.
“I would always say, ‘Well, I’m going to stay here and fight until they try and take my kids away.’ And I would say it as, like a, well, you know, that’s never going to happen. But then it did,” Karen said.
“We were advised to leave before we couldn’t leave.”
Her lawyers said her public advocacy made her a target. She remembers the children of family friends were approached at school by Protective Services agents. She had to train both her children about what to do if that happened to them.
“We had to talk about, ‘Here is the little card that you will carry around with you in your pocket and in your backpack. And if CPS shows up at your school you show them the card that says, ‘I don’t consent to talk to you. This is my lawyer’s information.”
The tipping point to move
A year ago Karen feared not only for her daughter’s safety but the affect the politics in Texas was having on her.
Her daughter was having panic attacks. One day in the car, the stress became clear when Karen asked her daughter if she wanted to record a statement for a rally in front of the Texas governor’s mansion.
“She was very quiet and she was sitting behind me,” Karen said. “Then, I just heard her little 10-year-old voice ask, ‘Am I going to die?'”
“It seems to come from out of nowhere except, no, that kind of question must be on her mind constantly hearing about all of this hate, all of these lies about her. So I pulled over and I asked, ‘Why would you say that? Of course you’re not going to die.’
“She looked at me and said, ‘Because everybody hates me here.’ And I just knew I can’t ask her to grow up in a place like this.”
The order by Gov. Abbot to investigate families of trans kids was struck down by a court last summer around the same time Karen and her family fled their native Texas.
Her husband’s employer saw the stress the political battle was having on their family and helped accommodate their move to Portland.
It was immediately a reset for Karen’s daughter.
“When we got into Oregon we went downtown. Then there’s this massive Pride festival and I thought it was really cool,” she said. “I felt like I’m in the right place. This is where I live now and I don’t plan on moving ever again.”
Karen sees a freedom in her daughter she didn’t see when they lived in Texas, a freedom from worry, freedom of thought — and freedom to be a kid again.
“I remember before she first started school (in Oregon, I asked) ‘Are you going to tell them that you’re trans?’ And she went, ‘Probably. It’s safe, right?’ I went, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ She just feels so supported.”
Her daughter said she was really nervous at her new school. “But I knew there was another trans kid in my class because when I visited, everyone told me this other person was trans just so I could know. And I was, like, cool. Then I felt more safe. Then I adjusted to my school more because everyone was so nice and so friendly. And it was so beautiful and I spent most of the time playing.”
Playing at school, like an 11-year-old should.
Karen feels relief in Oregon. She’s finally able to testify on legislation she supports. But during testimony in Salem earlier this spring she heard similar false arguments made here that she heard in Texas.
Just this year there have been more bills targeting the existence of transgender children introduced than the last 8 years combined, according to TransLegislation.com.
She hopes Oregonians remain vigilant in protecting equal rights for transgender people.