What Will It Take for Hollywood to Mess With Texas?
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that he’s directing state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender children as instances of “child abuse” was met with widespread condemnation Wednesday, with criticism ranging from Hollywood to the White House.
In a Feb. 22 letter addressed to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Jaime Masters, Abbott instructs the agency to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures,” referring to gender-affirming care such as surgeries and hormone therapies. The correspondence cited and included a lengthy opinion issued Friday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who also called such procedures child abuse under provisions of the Texas Family Code.
Writer Neil Gaiman described Abbott’s letter as “monstrous” while actress Melanie Lynskey said she was “heartbroken but not surprised” by the news. “This is a real fight,” she posted. “We need elected officials working, truly working, to protect trans kids and to protect all trans people.” Actor Alex Winter weighed in by predicting that Texas’ attack on the trans community will “only grow from there” because “that’s how fascism works.” Writer and showrunner Bess Kalb offered cash to any parents of trans youth who are looking to relocate out of Texas. “Fuck this Nazi,” she tweeted.
Abbott, a Republican, invoked a Texas law that mandates health care professionals and members of the public report such instances and suggesting those who fail to do so could face criminal penalties. A spokesperson for DFPS said the agency “will follow Texas law as explained.”
Brian Klosterboer, a staff attorney at ACLU’s Texas chapter, shot down the legitimacy of the Abbott and Paxton correspondence. “This opinion and letter have no legal effect and cannot change Texas law nor usurp the constitutional rights of Texas families. But they spread fear and misinformation and could spur false reporting of child abuse at a time when DFPS is already facing a crisis in our state’s foster care system,” Klosterboer said in a statement confirmed by THR. “The law is clear that parents, guardians and doctors can provide transgender youth with treatment in accordance with prevailing standards of care. Any parent or guardian who loves and supports their child and is taking them to a licensed healthcare provider is not engaging in child abuse.”
While it remains unclear how this unprecedented move will play out, Abbott’s intention to criminalize those who support health care for transgender youth was met with swift backlash.
Karine Jean-Pierre, a deputy principal press secretary for the White House, told The Dallas Morning News in a statement: “Conservative officials in Texas and other states across the country should stop inserting themselves into health care decisions that create needless tension between pediatricians and their patients. No parent should face the agony of a politician standing in the way of accessing life-saving care for their child.”
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, responded in a statement to THR, calling the situation deeply upsetting. “We know that support from family can be life-saving for transgender youth, and the constant attacks on their rights by politicians directly harm their mental health. Trans youth deserve the right to be who they are and to be treated with dignity and respect, things that all people want regardless of their gender, politics, or background.”
Transgender showrunner Jaclyn Moore responded by posting, “Trans kids deserve to get to become trans adults.” Moore, currently at work on the Queer as Folk reboot, announced last year that she would boycott Netflix after working with the streamer on its series Dear White People due to its airing of Dave Chappelle’s special The Closer.
And actress, writer and producer Jen Richards tweeted a thread on Tuesday calling out wider efforts by conservatives to restrict rights for the LGBTQ community. “All these bills have one goal, which they’ve been attempting from different angles ever since they lost gay marriage: legislate trans people out of existence,” Richards posted. “If you can’t use bathrooms or play sports or get medical care … it’s just abject cruelty masquerading as care.”
Richards suggested that these political moves could cause trans youth to “be kicked out or run away and suicide rates will spike” because they will be more vulnerable at home and in schools. “We’re out here just trying to live our lives and they can’t stop thinking about us. Our bodies. Our sex. All their efforts are like twisted fan-fiction horror. It’s dark and twisted.”
Bamby Salcedo, president of the TransLatin@ Coalition, said it’s important for the industry to understand its power and influence in creating societal change. One way to do that, she says, is by denouncing “harmful policies and legislation,” while another is by donating funds. “One simple way is to allocate and support with donations to trans-led organizations for us to continue to do the advocacy work that we do to dismantle the systems that continue to marginalize trans people.”
Still, the question remains: Will business be affected in Texas — at all?
While Hollywood power players have used their platforms in recent years to denounce controversial laws and state policies, they’ve been curiously reluctant to mess with Texas.
Back in September, the Lone Star State passed a hugely controversial abortion law that makes ending a pregnancy illegal after roughly six weeks, and allows any citizen to sue anyone who either receives an abortion, or helps someone to obtain one. Stars compared the law to The Handmaid’s Tale and Alyssa Milano dubbed its backers the “Texas Taliban.” Actress Rosanna Arquette declared she turned down a film because it would shoot in Texas, and outspoken The Wire showrunner David Simon said he’d pull an as-yet-unannounced project from the state.
Yet evidence of a serious boycott, particularly at the studio level, has been lacking.
There was certainly nothing as visible, for instance, as Major League Baseball deciding to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia last year in protest of its voting rights bill. Or, in 2019, how Georgia’s fetal heartbeat bill resulted in Lionsgate pulling the planned filming of its Kristen Wiig comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar from the state. At the time, then-Disney CEO Bob Iger declared if the bill became law it would become “very difficult” to produce films or movies there. And The CW’s Mark Pedowitz likewise told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour, “If the law is passed, I am certain we’ll have discussions with both studios about what to do and what not to do in terms of where Georgia sits.”
The Georgia bill is currently in limbo awaiting a Supreme Court ruling, while the Texas law is very much in effect.
Yet The CW shoots Walker in Texas, and has been silent about the matter, as have other outlets with productions in the state such as Netflix (which recently wrapped Roaring Twenties), Paramount+ (the Yellowstone prequel 1883 and spinoff 6666) and HBO Max (the upcoming miniseries Love and Death).
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called on officials from high-profile festivals like SXSW to contact Abbott. “Businesses that operate in Texas and host high-profile events like SXSW should contact Governor Abbott and let him know how this will make doing business in the state more difficult and that the only result of his action will be unnecessary harm to trans people and parents of trans youth,” she said.
SXSW, which gets underway next month, sent a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that spoke out against the directive, yet also noted the festival is staying put in the state’s liberal hub of Austin, where it has been held since its 1987 inception: “SXSW stands against discriminatory legislation and supports the LGBTQ+ community. The governor’s latest directive puts trans children in harm’s way once again, and we unequivocally condemn this action. We are often asked to leave the state when issues arise, but Texas is our home. It is a state where the major population centers are Democratic, and Austin has always stood for progressive values. Moving SXSW out of Texas would damage Austin more than it would the state. Austin is part of SXSW’s DNA, and we intend to stay and fight, and to continue to use our platform to further the progression of human rights.” (Penske Media, the co-owner of THR, is also the co-owner of SXSW.)
Still, this new directive — combined with the abortion law — might nudge studio fence-sitters who have options as to where to film upcoming projects into avoiding the state should Texas garner an increasingly toxic image among creatives. And if it doesn’t, it’s perhaps worth asking: Then what would?