A Mother Reflects on Defending Her Family

Amber Briggle is a typical mom in a typical American family. She has a loving husband, two wonderful kids, and a supportive community in Denton, TX, where she runs her own small business. But Amber’s family has been forced into a political battle they never asked for.

Amber describes herself as a “mama bear” of a transgender son in a state that has grown increasingly hostile to families like hers. They were first thrust into the national spotlight in 2016, after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton led an effort to keep transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. She invited Paxton to dinner, believing then as she does now that “it’s hard to hate up close” and hoping he might stop his anti-trans crusade if he could just get to know a trans kid. Paxton accepted, and by all accounts it was a lovely evening.

Which made it especially painful when Paxton issued an opinion in February 2022 asserting that medically necessary care for trans adolescents constitutes child abuse. Governor Greg Abbott then directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who affirm their trans kids and provide the care they need to thrive. In just a matter of days after Paxton issued his opinion, Amber and her husband were being investigated.

In response, the Briggles took action. They partnered with GLAAD and the Gill Foundation to release a public service announcement in April 2022 that opened with a simple invitation: “Do you want to meet a family with a transgender kid? Here we are.” The PSA has garnered more than 300 million media impressions and brought much needed attention to the fight underway in Texas as loving parents try to protect their kids from a government trying to tear families apart.

They’ve also gained some new perspectives along the way — which Amber shared in a conversation with me about being a loving mom and fierce advocate for her trans son and all trans youth.

Heidi Overbeck: What was your favorite part of making the PSA? What was the most challenging part?

Amber Briggle: I loved just showing the world my family. They’re the best. I loved that we could show the world how adorable and beautiful my kids are. That was my favorite part.

The most challenging part was not the day of filming. It’s the role that we have been forced to take on as really public advocates for trans kids, while simultaneously living in Texas. To be sure, it’s an incredible honor because there are countless families who don’t have the safety or privilege or ability to speak up. So it’s a huge honor to be able to represent them. It’s also a tremendous responsibility. I would never call it a burden, but it’s definitely a challenge.

As a fellow mom, I was struck by how deftly you navigated including your family in filming the PSA — but also fiercely protecting their wellbeing throughout the process. How do you strike the balance of keeping your kids informed about what’s going on while also insulating them from the worst of it?

There’s no how-to guidebook on raising a trans kid — and raising a trans kid publicly. We take it moment by moment. With every media request that we’re presented with, we ask: Do we want to do this? We can only do so much. It’s a lot to parade your trauma out there all the time. We ask: Is it going to be a “both sides” debate? Because if that’s the case, we’re out. We’re not debating my son’s existence and his ability to live freely and safely in this country. Full stop. Most importantly, we ask: Is it going to be impactful? With every opportunity, we talk about this as a family.

There are definitely things I would’ve done differently six or seven years ago, when we first started doing this work. I would have used a pseudonym, 100 percent. Because we could have been just as impactful doing this work — showing my family, how normal we are, how cute my kids are — but our last name could have been, say, “Johnson.” I really regret not doing that. But there’s no way that we could have ever anticipated that we would be in this place.

“Not only do we have to keep fighting for our family, but we feel like we owe it to other families to keep fighting on their behalf, too.”

I know you get asked often why you don’t just leave Texas. Can you share a bit about why you choose to stay?

We choose to stay for lots of reasons. We’re really tethered here. If we moved, my husband would lose his good-paying job and our health insurance. I’m a small business owner. I’ve been building this business since 2004. What do I do next? And my kids grew up here. This is the only place they’ve ever really known, and all of their friends are here. So to expect us to leave and take my kids out of their social networks when they need them most — that just seems really unfair.

It’s also really short-sighted. We could move to another state, but no place is safe. I have a friend who was thinking about moving to Virginia because she could transfer her professional license there. That seemed like a safe option for her — until it wasn’t. And so we don’t move because we don’t know where it’s going to remain safe. If we pick up and we move, then two years later do we have to do it again?

But we also stay because we are in this unique place of being these public advocates, where we are supported by our immediate community. Denton loves us, and we love Denton. We feel safe here. Our jobs are secure. Our children are thriving. There are a lot of families who don’t have that. A lot of families can’t even hint that their kid is trans, or speak in support of things publicly, because they’re afraid. Not only do we have to keep fighting for our family, but we feel like we owe it to other families to keep fighting on their behalf, too.

At the end of the day, if we have to move we’ll move. But we don’t feel like we have to move now. We’re going to stand and fight as long as we can.

“I would rather change the entire world than change my son.”

In September 2022, a Texas judge issued a ruling that blocks DFPS from investigating families of transgender children. How did it feel when you received the news?

I was obviously relieved. It’s still only a temporary injunction, but I’m very hopeful. We’ve got really good lawyers, and state and federal law is pretty clear on this. So I’m hopeful. I’m also really angry — that any of this had to happen in the first place. And we’re not out of the woods. We’re not going to be out of the woods until we pass state and federal legislation to protect kids.

Even if we get a favorable ruling in October, that’s not the end of it. We know that’s not the end. The Texas legislature is meeting as we speak, and trans kids are on the agenda. They’re coming up with new ways to attack trans kids and people who love them. They’ve already proposed 140 bills attacking LGBTQ+ Texans. The Senate passed a bill that bans healthcare for trans adolescents, and the House is expected to vote the same way. They’re voting on these things right now. And I’m going to keep fighting because I have to. When you’re coming after my family, Mama Bear is going to get her claws out.

What do you hope comes from more people becoming aware of your family’s experience?

I hope people will be awakened to the realities of trans kids like my son. In the PSA, it’s so obvious how deeply loved he is, how successful he is, how much he’s thriving. He’s the child everyone wants their kid to be. He’s athletic, he’s healthy, he’s musical, he’s creative, he’s grounded, he’s confident. He’s everything. And he is these things partly because he was born to be awesome, and partly because he has the support that he needs from his entire community—his parents, his church, his school, his medical providers, his friends, his coaches.

So what I want the people who see this PSA to understand is that we are fighting. I would rather change the entire world than change my son. And I feel like the entire world is trying to change my son. I want people to understand that we really need their help. Because trans kids are such a minority. And trans kids with supportive parents are even more of a minority. We can’t do this alone.

Whatever it is that you do: do that for trans kids. If you’re a writer, write a letter to the editor. If you’re a tweeter, follow trans people on Twitter and amplify their stuff. If you’re a minister, drop a line in your sermon about how God doesn’t make mistakes, and trans kids are created in His image, too. Literally whatever it is that you do, do that for trans kids. And collectively it will make a difference.