The Dallas appeals court has temporarily halted an order that two of UT Southwestern’s top leaders answer questions under oath about recent changes at its program for transgender youth.
The reprieve is a meaningful win for Dr. Daniel Podolsky, UT Southwestern’s president, and Dr. John Warner, its hospitals CEO, who were taken to court by the physician who used to run the program known as Genecis. The three-judge panel of the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas, made up of two Democrats and one Republican, did not give a reason for granting the stay.
Dr. Ximena Lopez, who ran the Genecis program until last year, can fight the stay. Her attorney for her declined to comment on the appeals court’s decision. UT Southwestern also did not comment, citing the pending legal matters, and referred The Dallas Morning News to a previous statement about the Genecis program.
While she has not sued UT Southwestern, which jointly ran Genecis with Children’s Health, Lopez’s petition is a likely precursor to litigation. She wants Podolsky and Warner to explain under oath why changes were made to the program in November. That’s when the hospitals pulled Genecis’ branding from the web and began referring new adolescent transgender patients seeking certain treatments, like puberty suppressants and hormone therapy, to outside providers.
Existing patients can still access these treatments, and the hospitals continue to provide mental health care to new child and adolescent patients grappling with gender dysphoria. In its 2020 literature about Genecis, UT Southwestern lauded it as the “first and largest” program of its kind in the Southwest.
Age-appropriate, individualized care for minors experiencing gender dysphoria is supported by every major state and national physicians’ group, including the American and Texas Medical Associations.
The changes at Genesis have drawn significant scrutiny from sources inside and outside the hospitals. About 200 faculty, students and community activists gathered at UT Southwestern on International Transgender Day of Visibility last month to protest the decision, and a national LGBTQ rights group downgraded the hospital’s equality rating.
Since the changes at Genecis, Lopez says, more than 100 patients seeking medical treatments have been referred elsewhere. At a hearing in April, Lopez testified that hospital leaders told her someone in the office of Gov. Greg Abbott pressured them to make the changes.
Lopez argues in her petition that the changes at Genecis are discriminatory. UT Southwestern’s lawyers reject her argument and say Podolsky and Warner, as employees of a state university, are afforded governmental immunity from legal actions like this.
While the hospitals have cited “media attention and political and scientific controversy” in their decision to halt certain treatments for new transgender youth patients, Podolsky and Warner also told the court that no “third party” entity or individual “made or directed them” to make the changes.
“After legislative hearings last year brought additional scrutiny of our care, the GENECIS brand became a lightning rod for the controversy over hormone therapy for gender dysphoria, and we made the joint decision to remove the branding so we could care for our patients in a more protective environment,” UT Southwestern and Children’s Heath said in a joint statement March 28. “However, we concluded that without some modifications in our provision of these treatments, we risked the possibility of having to shut down our program entirely and catalyzing action that would lead to their ban statewide.”
The issue of gender-affirming care for trans youth has been the source of fierce political fights of late.
Last year, conservative state Lawmakers in Texas tried but failed to ban gender-affirming medical treatments like the ones offered at Genecis. Then in February, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion classifying such treatments as child abuse. Abbott, citing this opinion, directed Child Protective Services to investigate any allegations of youth undergoing such treatments.
The state has initiated at least nine investigations. The probes are on hold as the parents of a transgender teenager fight to end the policy in court.