Weaponizing Fear

Yale Law Journal Forum (2022 Forthcoming)

Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1743

17 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2022 Last revised: 20 Jun 2022

Date Written: March 18, 2022


In a letter dated February 22, 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) "to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances" of what he calls "abusive sex change procedures". Many condemned the weaponizing of the child protective system to punish families. Some highlighted that the directive misuses the vague definitions of child abuse to target LGBTQ youth and their families. While I agree with both notions, I suggest that their framing insufficiently captures the ways the "child protective" system fits squarely into the project of controlling marginalized families. Then, the issue is not primarily the misuse of the system, but the system itself. This essay rejects the notion that vague definitions lie at the heart of the issue. To be sure, we cannot define our way out of anti-trans and anti-Black violence-and their intersections-perpetuated by the family regulation system. This essay employs the term "family regulation system" when referring to what is commonly described as the "child welfare system".

I argue that the directive, as much as it plays on vague terms, relies on preexisting, deep-seated fears of violence committed or perpetuated by the carceral state against the most marginalized families. Whatever the long-term viability of the directive, and other similar targeting strategies, the damage of exacerbating these fears has been done. This essay explores how fear is regularly weaponized against families with intersectional marginalized identities by outlining the "conditions" of fear in the family regulation system and exploring how fear is and is not discussed in "child welfare" court decisions. The targeting of LBGTQ youth and parents by the family regulation system is a racialized movement. Yet, popular conversations and legal scholarship rarely adopt an intersectional lens and bigger picture framing that includes both Black LGBTQ children and Black LGBTQ parents. This essay argues that the lack of intersectional perspectives is indicative of a larger disregard for the impacts of intersectional marginalization in family regulation.

Keywords: LGBTQ+, Family Regulation System, Intersectionality, Family Law, Marginalization, Race and the Law

Suggested Citation

Washington, S. Lisa, Weaponizing Fear (March 18, 2022). Yale Law Journal Forum (2022 Forthcoming), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1743, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4061249

S. Lisa Washington (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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