Amber Briggle believes family can change anything. Her family changed when she realized her child, MG, who was assigned female at birth, was actually transgender.
“I never expected to be the mom of a trans kid,” she tells Out. “I never knew anyone who was trans until I met my son.”
The Briggles live in Denton, Texas, just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. MG is in third grade and will turn 9 years old in February. Briggle started her research on transgender people as soon as she started to see the signs in her son.
“Since he could talk, he would say, ‘Mom I’m a boy,’ she says. “I read everything. I did my research. I saw the risks—you read about the risk of attempting suicide. You have a choice to make as a parent—do you want a dead daughter or a healthy son?”
Briggle, with the support of husband Adam, began to accept MG’s gender expression as he grew. But when school came, she noticed something was off.
“There was a time when his grades were falling. I would see him come home at the end of the day and run to the bathroom. I found out—he had been holding it all day at school.”
Because he dressed as a boy, Briggle said that teachers and other students would “correct” him if he tried to use the boys’ restroom or the girls’ restroom. So he just quit using either one.
Once Briggle talked with school officials and found a solution, MG’s grades “soared” she says, and her son became a brighter, more spirited child.
Now, Briggle’s state is threatening to put that simple yet effective change in a child’s life in danger with long-promised anti-transgender legislation. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas legislature is preparing to debate SB6, the “bathroom bill” that would shut transgender adults and children like MG out of the restrooms and changing rooms matching their gender identity.
“I’m anxious, I’m nervous, I’m frightened,” Briggle says. “But we’re standing strong.”
In this chillingly partisan era of politics, Briggle put her faith in the power of family to the test: She invited Texas officials in May to have dinner with her family and actually meet her son. After all, only 30 percent of American adults have ever actually met an openly transgender person.
By September, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—who has sued to block pro-LGBT regulations from the Obama administration—accepted the invitation.
Paxton and his wife had dinner with the Briggles, and the state’s chief legal counsel met young MG. The Southern-style dinner was amiable; Paxton even thrilled the transgender boy with a magic trick, showing him how to make a penny disappear.
Now, with SB6 looming on the horizon, Briggle feels like the one who was tricked.
“I thought, when you show the face of a child, it’s hard to polarize—to give in to false fears and misunderstandings,” she says.
Despite that family dinner, Paxton has come out in support of SB6, saying in a statement that “Texans should feel safe and secure when they enter any intimate facilities”—again playing into myths that transgender people are inherently predators.
“I feel—forgotten,” she says. “[The Paxtons] seemed so sincere; you can’t fake that around kids. I didn’t expect overnight change, but I hoped a seed had been planted.”
Now, it seems clear to Briggle and other Texas families with transgender loved ones that state officials are completely out of touch. SB6 would prevent municipalities from passing their own ordinances on bathrooms laws (much like what happened with North Carolina’s HB2 and Charlotte). In addition, the law would fine schools or other public places up to $10,000 if a transgender person is allowed to use a bathroom matching their gender identity.
“These officials haven’t talked to schools,” Briggle says. “They are only hearing what they want to hear. Our schools are desperately underfunded, and now they want to take away $10,000 every time my son has to go to the bathroom.”
While Briggle feels disheartened by the legislation, she hasn’t given up. She tried calling Paxton’s office, only to try and be “sold” on the law and how it would “protect” children like MG. She says that the community of allies in Texas is larger than many realize. And her invitation to her dinner table is still open. So far, the lieutenant governor has not responded.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” she says.