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The Dragons are Still Out There

One family’s escape from Texas’ brutal anti-LGBTQ+ laws

“It just kept slowly escalating,” Karina recalled. “I wasn’t desperate to leave Texas – we’d lived in our town for over ten years. It was our home.”

When Karina and her son Charlie landed in Boulder County in May of 2022, they were both exhausted and elated — exhausted from fighting for Charlie, a transgender, then 14-year-old boy, and elated to have landed in a safe state. Charlie and Karina (names have been changed)How they got here is a story that's playing out repeatedly as persecuted LGBTQ+ people flee discrimination and dangerous policies that threaten their lives. These human rights refugees leave behind all that they know to simply exist free from persecution. It’s a sacrifice Karina was willing to make. Karina and Charlie’s story offers a glimpse into the fight.Karina, a single mother, raised Charlie in a small Texas town that was an island of progressive politics surrounded by a sea of conservatives. Charlie, who came out to his mother as transgender at the age of 12, grew up with a community of friends and support: scouts, close families, sports, and extracurricular clubs.

Karina supported Charlie and also knew that his transgender identity would require navigating other people’s prejudices and preconceived notions. She knew that doing this in conservative Texas and in the throes of adolescence would be challenging.“Being a teen is hard enough,” Karina said. “So I suggested he try therapy so that he would have help navigating everything.”Initially, Charlie found acceptance and support. This was partly due to his timing; he came out in the midst of pandemic lockdown and felt safe with his few trusted friends from Scouts and the neighborhood. But returning to in-person school his freshman year exposed him to severe bullying—by other students and even some teachers.“The second week of school I got a text from Charlie. A kid in his class had threatened to ‘beat him up and throw his body across the football field’. I was so angry, I got in touch with the school immediately.”

The bully was suspended. But upon return, he was put back in Charlie’s class, contrary to what school officials had promised. “The kid tormented Charlie. Instead of overtly threatening him, he made quiet jokes and would humiliate Charlie at every opportunity.”

School started to feel less and less safe. Charlie began showing signs of severe depression. Some school administrators and teachers contributed to Charlie’s distress. “Several teachers would misgender Charlie continually and use his old name, which just made things worse with the bullying.”By Thanksgiving, Charlie was talking openly about suicide. “I took him to the children’s hospital where they held him for a little over a week. The only good part of that difficult experience was finding a doctor who didn’t pathologize Charlie for being transgender. They treated him as a person and also provided us with resources like introducing us to an endocrinologist.”

Things seemed to be improving until February 2022. That’s when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion stating that providing gender-affirming care for minors should be considered child abuse. He instructed the Department of Family and Protective Services (commonly referred to as Child Protective Services, or CPS) to launch multiple investigations into hospitals providing gender-affirming care for minors. While Charlie wasn’t yet on puberty blockers, he was on a waitlist. The children’s hospital doctor he’d been seeing suddenly had to cancel. The impacts to Charlie’s mental health were devastating.“Pretty much any positive progress that we made got shut down,” said Karina. “It left Charlie in a big nowhere.”

Because gender-affirming care had been labeled “child abuse”, all mandatory reporters – meaning teachers, coaches, Scout counselors, religious leaders, even therapists – were required to report parents of transgender children to the state for criminal investigation.

“I’ve never been so angry and scared in my life, and I was terrified the state was going to try to take my child away because I was caring for Charlie. Gender-affirming care was life-saving, and suddenly Texas criminalized parents providing it,” Karina said. Seemingly overnight, all of the safety measures put in place for Charlie disappeared. “The school could turn you in for even asking for his correct pronouns to be used, or for asking to use the bathroom – Charlie used to be allowed to use the teacher bathroom, that was the accommodation. All that just got ripped away.”

Terrified of losing her child to CPS, violence, or suicide, Karina made the decision to leave her home, her fiancé, and her elder son behind in order to keep Charlie safe. After researching online schools and other states known for safeguarding trans rights, she chose Colorado. “I knew that Charlie would be able to have a future here.”

Karina’s search also led her to Out Boulder County. We directed her to a local high school known for its support for LGBTQ+ kids and those who’ve gone through trauma. Out Boulder County also talked her through how to get Charlie looped in with our Youth Program, and connected Karina with referrals for healthcare and mental health support.

Just two months after the attorney general’s announcement, Karina made the move to Boulder County. Charlie joined her a couple weeks later when she was settled. While grateful to have found a refuge for Charlie, the move has been difficult and bittersweet.

“Leaving my fiancé and especially my oldest son behind is still hard – because I feel like – it feels like my family is broken. But we had to go. I’m certain there would not have been – any kind of good outcome for Charlie if we’d stayed.”Soon after their arrival, Karina and Charlie went to Boulder Pridefest. The experience was transformative.“Feeling safe in a big group and meeting people who were fighting for the same things we’re fighting for – that really drove the message home that we were in the right place,” she said.

Karina credits their soft landing to Charlie’s resilience and to the community and support she and Charlie have found at Out Boulder County. Charlie has made friends and had adventures, including the LGBTQ+ youth camping trip. He’s found mentors in Chris and Lily (OBC youth program staff), and he’s also experienced young love. He’s thriving in school, and his mother sees it as a good investment for them both.

“Charlie is no longer fighting to stay alive. Here he can grow and become an adult, and be able to find a path.”

Now 16, Charlie is a junior. Karina keeps in close touch with her other son and fiancé back in Texas, and is optimistic they will be reunited once Charlie graduates from high school and gets on his own feet. Karina looks forward to being together again with the rest of her family that has been torn apart by Texas’s rigid, inhumane approach to LGBTQ+ rights.

“Everybody deserves to be safe,” said Karina. “Being in Boulder County doesn’t mean we can ignore what’s going on just a few hours away. People think this is a fortress. But the dragons are still out there.”

More and more LGBTQ+ families are being forced to flee their homes for the safety of Colorado, and you cangive them a warm welcome by supporting the services and resources they need to thrive.


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