What did 7-year-old Luna Younger of Dallas do that has mobilized conservatives and Christian fundamentalists across Texas into action? She declared, at age 3, “I’m a girl.”
Her father, however, insists she’s a boy, despite a diagnosis of gender dysphoria by three medical experts. Jeffrey Younger feels so strongly about this that he launched an online campaign to stop their child’s gender transition. That campaign has been seized upon as a cause célèbre by Texas Republicans from Austin to Washington, D.C.
Luna was given the name “James” at birth in 2012, and, like her twin brother, presumed to be male, until 2016. That’s when a court annulled her parents’ marriage on the basis of fraud.
Court records reveal that Luna’s dad, mathematician Jeffrey Younger, is a liar.
Prior to their marriage, Younger repeatedly lied to her about his past. Georgulas learned after the marriage in 2010 that Younger had been married twice before — she was only aware of one previous marriage — and that he had lied to her about his military experience, his income and his job experience, among other things. Younger claimed to have served in the Marines, including in Iraq, but in fact had only been in the Marines for a short time and never told Georgulas that he had been discharged from the Army “due to an admission of homosexuality,” according to the court records. Younger also lied to Georgulas about his education, falsely claiming to have a college degree from the University of Dallas, and on top of that, he lied about earning a Ph.D.
Following their divorce, Georgulas was awarded “the right to make decisions about the children’s medical and psychological treatment, among other issues, provided she notified Younger,” according to the Dallas Morning News.
But this week saw the end of a two-year court battle between Georgulas and her ex. She had filed a petition to modify the joint conservatorship: to restrict some of Younger’s rights over the twins, and to require him to use she/her/hers pronouns and allow their daughter to present as a girl in all settings, affirming their child’s identity as a girl. For his part, Younger filed a counter-petition, urging the court to make him the sole managing conservator, as BuzzFeedNews reported.
On Tuesday, the jury reached its verdict: by a vote of 11-to-1, the jurors awarded Georgulas sole custody of their children. That did not sit well with Younger and his supporters: “family values” conservatives, Christian extremists, right wing pundits and Fox News, all of whom rallied to Younger’s defense.
The next day, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that he had referred the case to the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Then Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office got involved, as BuzzFeed News first reported. Paxton, who is still awaiting trial on felony securities fraud charges, sent a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, asking the agency to open an investigation into “possible child abuse against seven-year-old James Younger, whose mother has proposed chemically and surgically altering his biological sex based on her belief that he may identify as a girl.”
According to Georgulas’s attorneys, that’s a lie, perpetrated to advance the cause of stirring public sentiment. She told the court she wants to allow Luna to continue to transition socially from male to female by wearing girls clothing and going by a different name. Later, her daughter might take medical steps such as puberty blockers, which temporarily pause puberty. This step is 100% reversible and often prescribed for children who may feel uncomfortable with their assigned sex, and it requires children’s informed consent, according to the Mayo Clinic. A teenager, typically around the age of 16, might eventually decide to pursue hormone therapy and undergo surgery at age 18, the clinic said.
Paxton’s office also misgendered Luna with male pronouns and called him a boy throughout its letter to DFPS, asking the agency to “protect the boy in question (from) permanent and potentially irreversible harm by his mother.”
Then the big guns started blazing. Donald Trump, Jr. accused Georgulas of “child abuse,” as did Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz tweeted that the case was “horrifying & tragic. For a parent to subject such a young child to life-altering hormone blockers to medically transition their sex is nothing less than child abuse.” In a follow-up tweet, he claimed the child was “a pawn in a left-wing political agenda.”
Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, has promised to introduce a bill prohibiting the use of puberty blockers for children, and Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, pledged that the first bill filed next year will address “‘Transitioning of a Minor’ as Child Abuse.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw also voiced his support for Younger, claiming that a 7-year-old couldn’t understand the decision to accept gender-affirming treatment and that the case was “heartbreaking and sets a horrible precedent.”
After all that, it came as little surprise that on Thursday, Judge Kim Cooks buckled to the public pressure and overturned the jury’s decision, awarding both parents joint custody, giving Younger a say in medical decisions. The ruling came with a gag order for both parents, prohibiting both from speaking about the case, which will mean Younger has to shut down a website created by a family friend to generate support, both politically and financially. The site, savejames.com featured videos of his daughter wearing boys’ clothes and included a lengthy dossier detailing the case’s legal proceedings over two years. One online record included Younger’s admission in court that he cut his daughter’s hair to “one quarter-inch, shaved above her ears,” despite knowing Georgulas’s intention to let their child grow their hair out. Younger did not shave Luna’s twin brother’s head in a similar crew-cut hairstyle.
Although Younger claimed he was not “against” the transgender community, he wrote online that he opposed “irreversible” hormone treatments that experts insist are reversible. He repeatedly referred to gender-affirming treatments as “chemical castration” and “this crazy transgender world.” The purpose of the website was to provide Younger’s perspective on the fight over the child’s gender identity, according to BuzzFeed News. But that’s not all.
Before the site was taken offline, Jezebel reported Sarah Scott’s online fundraiser had raised more than $86,000 from almost 2,000 people, ostensibly to cover legal costs. A separate GoFundMe campaign created by Scott to “support Jeff’s family” has raised more than $42, 000 from 638 donors since September 2018.
What about Georgulas?
She’s been the target of conservative bloggers and social media users who accuse her of wanting to “mutilate” her child, a sadly common tactic of anti-transgender activists. She’s also been doxxed by a Facebook group with a graphically violent name. The group circulated what they claimed was Georgulas’ address and phone number, and encouraged people to leave negative reviews for the office where she works as a pediatrician.
Georgulas has been subjected to “threats, harassment, and even vandalism,” said her attorneys, Jessica Janicek and Laura Hayes, in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday. “A completely distorted and untrue version of events in this case has been circling the media,” the statement said. “My client is being viciously attacked and threatened by complete strangers based on false and untrue statements. That is unacceptable.”
The attorneys added: “The ruling issued by a jury of peers, after hearing both sides of this case, should call into question the distorted and untrue version of events that has been circulated.” That was before the judge overruled the jury of Georgulas’s peers.
Why is this even happening? Whose business is it, other than her parents, how Luna identifies, or lives? Political scientists say state Republicans see this custody case over a trans girl as a Red Bull for far right conservative backers ahead of elections, as well as a bat-signal to show them social issues will dominate the 2021 session. “There’s trigger issues for so many right-leaning Republicans. It plays well politically for their them in a presidential year,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston professor, told the Dallas Morning News.
LGBTQ advocates say stories involving transgender children like Luna are a tool, used by anti-transgender activists to present transgender people as a risk to others. That tool is most effectively deployed online, and a recent study found that 8 transphobic posts are posted every 60 seconds on social media in the U.K. and U.S. They range from insults and harassment to calls for the genocide of transgender people and their allies, according to research by Ditch The Label and Brandwatch.
A survey by The Trevor Project this year found that 78% of transgender and non-binary youth reported facing discrimination over their gender identity.
“We should never forget that these stories, much as they are often framed as part of a broader culture war, are ultimately about individuals and families who are trying to do the best they can,” said Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
“There is no reason to doubt that both of Luna’s parents love her very much,” Pick told The Daily Beast. “That said, too often we see transgender children framed by anti-transgender advocates as a threat to other children or society, and when that happens, it has a negative effect on the self-worth and health of LGBTQ youth across the country.”
And that includes Luna, a 7-year-old girl, whose doctors, teachers and her mom are treating as the girl she knows herself to be.
Contributor’s note: my original report erroneously conflated that Younger had brought Georgulas to court, when in fact he filed a counter-petition to his ex-wife’s original petition. I stand corrected.