Shortsfest film looks at Texas’ threat to take trans child away from parents Geoff Hanson, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer Mar 30, 2024

March 30, 2024

Shortsfest film looks at Texas’ threat to take trans child away from parents Geoff Hanson, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer Mar 30, 2024

Of the 70 films screening at Aspen Film’s 33rd annual Shortsfest next week, one is sure to make waves far beyond the banks of the Roaring Fork River.

“Love to the Max” highlights the Briggle family of northern Texas. Amber and Adam Briggle are raising their children Max, 14, and Lulu, 9. They seem like a stereotypical American family, save that Max is trans (male, assigned female at birth).

The film chronicles the nightmare the Briggle family has endured, with the state of Texas targeting them for child abuse and trying to remove the children from the parents’ custody for raising a trans child.

“We’re so honored to be able to share the world premiere of ‘Love to the Max,’” said Jason Anderson, Shortsfest director of programming. “It does something that great documentaries do, which is explore an issue that has gotten badly distorted in the media, and present what it really means to people’s lives in a way that’s acutely, painfully real.”

In 2021, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that gender-affirming health care for trans youth constituted child abuse. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott used that opinion as the basis to require any member of a community, including teachers and neighbors, to report the parents of trans children. He also used the opinion to have the state Department of Family Protective Services investigate parents raising trans children under the guise that it constituted child abuse.

In February 2022, DFPS arrived at the Briggles’ home and interviewed the entire family, including Lulu. There was a threat of removing the children from their home and placing them in foster care.

“It was awful,” Amber Briggle said in an interview with the Aspen Daily News. “And I really don’t want to talk about it, because I will absolutely break down in tears again. It was horrifying.”

The Briggles then successfully sued the state of Texas for a temporary injunction against any further investigations of parents of trans children on the sole basis that the only charge against them was that they were parents of trans children.

After the harrowing experience with DFPS Amber reached out for support from an online group called The

The is an online listserv and community of high-impact women and nonbinary leaders devoted to helping each other unlock opportunities. Their website describes members as “innovators, pioneers, disrupters and connectors across media, technology entrepreneurship and business, whose goal is to support other members of the community and help succeed for themselves, each other and in the world.”

Briggle sent an email to the group with the word “Help” in the subject line. In that message, she detailed her circumstances and asked the group for support as she navigated the challenges of the state’s threat to take her children away. The email caught the eye of author and filmmaker Tanya Selvaratnam, who wrote to Briggle on the thread and offered her support. She also encouraged Briggle to document everything that was happening.

Then, another member of the listserv who knew about Selvaratnam’s background as a filmmaker encouraged her to get more directly involved.

“I reached out to Amber and said, ‘You’re making a difference, and documentaries can make a difference. If you’re interested in talking about making a film, let me know,’” Selvaratnam said from Bloomington, Indiana, where she was speaking about her latest book, “High Touch.”

“I only knew Tanya through The and didn’t know she had a background in film,” Briggle said. “I didn’t reach out to the looking for someone to make a film, I was just looking for support and amplification, and Tanya and I began talking about making a film. It was a very organic process and after discussing it with my husband Adam, we decided to go for it because I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, the government would never go into the homes of people and investigate them for child abuse for raising a trans child. That’s ridiculous, and the answer is, ‘No, they actually are.’’’

A few months later, Selvaratnam went to Texas with co-director Rose Bush to begin documenting the story of the Briggle family.

“It was the closest I had gotten to their situation and to see it up close with what was happening in Texas and to talk to other families there,” Selvaratanam said. “I just knew that I wanted to help tell this story, because what I witnessed were people living under siege with the threat that their families could be torn apart. I think that unless people have the situation come close to them, they don’t realize how painful and dangerous it is, the targeting of trans kids in this country.

“It’s a vulnerable community that is being preyed upon for political expediency,” Selvaratnam continued. “It was very important for me to focus on the humanity of the situation and hopefully to awaken people to the plight of these families and these kids, and to encourage people to stand up for them.”

On the first shoot, Selvaratnam focused almost exclusively on the Briggles. She returned in hopes of documenting the wider trans community and the ways in which they supported one another.

In one of the most poignant scenes in the film, Selvaratnam documents a “Trans Day of Remembrance” in which pictures of people who were killed in hate crimes across the country were displayed on a table as their names were read. The scene was filmed only a few days after the November 2022 shooting at Club Q, the LGBTQ+ bar in Colorado Springs, in which five people were killed and 25 injured.

Briggle hopes that a look into the lives of a loving family with a trans child might humanize the issue and allow people to move beyond prejudices and misconceptions, many of which have been perpetrated by political parties, churches and TV talking heads.

“I think people might have one opinion, or maybe a misperception, of what it means to be trans but when you actually meet someone who’s openly trans, like Max, and you see how well adjusted, happy, grounded and surefooted he is in his life, you might start to think about it a little bit differently,” she said.

“I hope that the viewers can see themselves in us and that I hope that will inspire them or motivate them to stand up for our family, because in doing so they’re standing up for their family,” she continued.

Selvaratnam’s hope is that “Love to the Max” will serve as a metaphor for the ways in which other marginalized communities in the U.S. are being treated.

“I want to make people realize how the harmful tactics by people in positions of power are increasing because it serves the political purpose to target a vulnerable community,” she said. “Whether it be immigrants, black and brown people, Latinos — just targeting vulnerable communities and making them more so helps people maintain their power in a way.”

Amber Briggle and her son Max are pictured in the film “Love to the Max.”


Courtesy photo
No simple solution
An obvious question that arises from watching “Love to the Max” is, why would the Briggles stay in Texas? Why wouldn’t they go somewhere else?

“We want to stay and fight as long as we can,” Briggle said. “It’s not as simple as just picking up and moving. Max (now 16) is thriving. He’s such a lovely young man who is well supported at school and with his friends, in his activities, and at his job and at our church.

“I feel like that’s kind of victim-blaming. Why don’t you just help instead of telling me that I need to move? You’re blaming me that we’re still here rather than blaming the people who are actually perpetrating this injustice against our family. It’s our rights that should be protected, regardless of what zip code we’re in,” Briggle said.

When asked if she ever contemplated making “Love to the Max” a feature-length piece, Selvaratnam said she felt the film would reach a wider audience as a short rather than a feature.

“I think more people will watch a 13-minute movie then watch a 93-minute movie,” Selvaratnam said. “I think there’s really something to that. I wanted to deliver the story in an easy-to-ingest way to make people more curious and to want to know more. While you can’t touch on everything in a short film, you can raise most of everything that you need to and let the viewer take it from there.

“I do think the film exposed the humanity of these trans kids and also to the love and care in this family.”

The film will be released this year as part of “The New Yorker Documentary” series.

The world premiere of “Love to the Max” is set for Wednesday at the Wheeler Opera House. It is one of six films to be screened in a program beginning at 5 p.m. For more information about Aspen Film’s Shortsfest, April 1-7, visit

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