Photos: “We don’t feel safe here.” A transgender teen and their family flee Texas.

Texas policies targeting access to health care for transgender youth forced one family to leave the state.
Heather Crawford embraces Cass Crawford as they struggle through a panic attack in August while...
Heather Crawford embraces Cass Crawford as they struggle through a panic attack in August while packing to move to Minnesota from their home in Austin. The family decided to leave Texas after state policies started targeting access to health care for transgender youth.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Published: Dec. 3, 2022 at 1:31 PM CST
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AUSTIN, Texas (The Texas Tribune) - For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.

One morning in July, Heather Crawford cradled her child Cass Crawford on the floor of their bedroom as they breathed through a panic attack together. Half-packed boxes surrounded them. The family was leaving the home they had always known in Texas, scared for the safety of their 16-year-old transgender teen.

On the bedroom floor, Heather asked Cass if they thought about hurting themselves.

Determining that Cass was not at high enough risk for self-harm to call an ambulance, Heather gave Cass a Klonopin prescribed for severe panic attacks.

She remembered the note that Cass left behind last time life became too much.

“I just can’t take it anymore. Do not resuscitate me please,” Cass had written. “I want this.”

Heather read the note aloud at a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Council meeting earlier this year after Gov. Greg Abbott directed the agency to open child abuse investigations on parents who provide gender-affirming care to their kids. Cass identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns “they” or “them.” After their suicide attempt, they were diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria and began receiving gender-affirming care. Currently, Abbott’s order largely can’t be enforced as a court challenge plays out.

But the directive followed years of Texas officials and lawmakers repeatedly targeting transgender Texans with legislation and orders that have sought to limit everything from school sports participation to health care access.

That’s why the Crawford family decided to move out of Texas ahead of another legislative session. And that’s why Heather picked up Cass, gave them medication for anxiety attacks and solemnly continued packing up their life in Central Texas, where Heather and her husband both grew up.

“We don’t feel safe here,” Heather said. “It took me a long time to apply the term ‘political refugee’ to our situation, but I think we meet the definition.”

Before the family left, friends came from as far as Houston and Dallas to say goodbye to Cass and wish them well with their new life in Minnesota, 1,200 miles away.

Cass tried hard to make connections at their new school in St. Paul. But it’s tiring, they said, and awkward to explain to new people they meet. They’re still sad about what happened, and for the spring semester, the family has decided to keep Cass home and enroll them in an online high school.

“What I would want people to take away from this,” said Cass from their new home in Minnesota, “is how much this is hurting me.”

Cass Crawford was diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria after a suicide attempt in October...
Cass Crawford was diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria after a suicide attempt in October 2019, when they were 13. Their pediatrician began providing gender-affirming care, greatly improving their mental health over time.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Cass has found the fencing community to be especially welcoming and accepting. They enjoy the...
Cass has found the fencing community to be especially welcoming and accepting. They enjoy the fact that once a person dons their fencing wardrobe, their gender is not immediately obvious.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Cass during a going-away lunch with friends in August after the family decided they’d leave...
Cass during a going-away lunch with friends in August after the family decided they’d leave Texas. Friends traveled from as far away as Dallas and Houston to say their goodbyes. During the lunch, they talked about future plans to see each other, but Cass knew they likely wouldn’t see them again until the following summer at the earliest.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Heather Crawford speaks at a Department of Family and Protective Services Council meeting in...
Heather Crawford speaks at a Department of Family and Protective Services Council meeting in Austin on March 11. Heather read aloud the note that Cass left before their suicide attempt in 2019. Many people in the room openly wept as she described her experience as the mother of a trans child in Texas.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Heather Crawford embraces Cass as they struggle through a panic attack while packing their...
Heather Crawford embraces Cass as they struggle through a panic attack while packing their room. Heather held Cass as tears rolled down their cheeks and they took deep breaths together. “I am just furious all the time that I had to drag them away from their whole life and start over, and I can't shield them from the fact that the state of Texas wants to criminalize their existence,” Heather said.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Cass was given a disposable camera to document their final months in Texas, spending much of it...
Cass was given a disposable camera to document their final months in Texas, spending much of it away at camp. They focused on the joys of a teenage summer and found refuge among friends before the impending move. Cass also spent the summer checking off items on their “Texas bucket list,” which included visits to various state parks, restaurants and Six Flags. Despite the fun items on the bucket list, the frequency of Cass’ panic attacks increased as moving day approached.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)
Cass at their new home in St. Paul in September. With a delayed moving truck, the family stayed...
Cass at their new home in St. Paul in September. With a delayed moving truck, the family stayed busy with shopping for school clothes and attending the local Renaissance Festival — anything to keep the mind occupied. “It feels weird. I don’t like starting over,” Cass said.(Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)