Florida families with trans children file federal lawsuit to overturn ban on gender-affirming care

Parents and civil rights groups sue medical officials and Ron DeSantis’s surgeon general

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 24 March 2023 00:50 GMT
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A federal lawsuit filed by four families with transgender children in Florida takes aim at recently implemented rules that effectively ban gender-affirming care for trans youth in the state.

Eight states including Florida have enacted laws or policies banning gender-affirming care for young trans people, and at least 10 states are considering similar measures.

Republican state lawmakers in Florida are advancing several bills with sweeping restrictions on gender-affirming care, including a measure that could forcibly detransition trans youth.

Federal courts in Alabama and Arkansas have blocked similar laws targeting gender-affirming care for trans youth, but recently enacted policies upending trans healthcare in Florida were advanced without the support of the state legislature and at the instruction Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration, including surgeon general Joseph Ladapo, who has rejected evidence from leading medical groups.

“Being able to consult with our team of doctors to understand what our daughter is experiencing and make the best, most informed decisions about her care has been critically important for our family,” one of the plaintiffs, the mother of an 11-year-old trans child, said in a statement shared with The Independent.

The families named in the lawsuit are using synonyms to protect their identity.

The family of 11-year-old Susan moved to Florida when the father was stationed there as a senior officer in the US Navy, according to filings.

Their daughter “is a happy, confident child, but this ban takes away our right to provide her with the next step in her recommended treatment when she reaches puberty,” her mother said in a statement.

“The military doctors we work with understand the importance of providing that evidence-based, individualized care,” she added. “We’re proud to serve our country, but we are being treated differently than other military families because of a decision by politicians in the state where we are stationed. We have no choice but to fight this ban to protect our daughter’s physical and mental health.”

Another mother with a 14-year-old trans son said in a statement that Florida’s ban puts her and other parents “in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most.”

“My son has a right to receive appropriate, evidence-based medical care,” she said. “He was finally getting to a place where he felt hopeful, where being prescribed testosterone was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body. That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.”

The plaintiffs and their children are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Human Rights Campaign.

They also have requested a preliminary injunction asking a federal court to halt the policy while their challenge proceeds in court.

Defendants include Mr Ladapo, who was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis, and members of the state’s boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine.

A spokesperson for Florida’s health department responded to a request from The Independent with an animated gif of Ron DeSantis. The gif caption reads: “If you want to waste your time on a stunt, that’s fine. But I’m not wasting my time on your stunt.” They also said they could not comment on pending litigation.

The guidelines adopted by the boards contradict those from major health organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, among others.

“Defendants cannot demonstrate any rational basis, much less an important or compelling one, for the transgender medical bans which prevent transgender adolescents from getting safe and effective medically necessary healthcare,” according to the complaint.

Following several months of debate and protests from LGBT+ advocates, the Florida Board of Medicine enacted a rule that bars trans minors from access to gender-affirming healthcare, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

That policy went into effect on 16 March. The Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine will enact an identical rule on 28 March.

The American Medical Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, among others, have established clear clinical guidelines for treating young trans people.

“This policy came about through a political process with a predetermined conclusion, and it stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and science,” according to a statement from Simone Chriss, director of Transgender Rights Initiative, Southern Legal Counsel.

“There is an unbelievable degree of hypocrisy when a state that holds itself out as being deeply concerned with protecting ‘parents’ rights’ strips parents of their right to ensure their children receive appropriate medical care,” she added.

Florida surgeon general Joseph Ladapo, left, appears with Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021.

A wave of legislation at the state and federal level within the last few years has increasingly targeted gender-affirming care for trans youth. State lawmakers this year have introduced more than 400 bills identified by the Human Rights Campaign as harmful to LGBT+ Americans. At least 175 measures would specifically restrict the rights of trans people.

More than half of all trans youth in the US between the ages of 13 and 17 are at risk of losing access to age-appropriate and medically necessary gender-affirming healthcare in their home state, the organisation found.

The onslaught of legislation and volatile political debate surrounding the bills has also negatively impacted the mental health of an overwhelming majority of young trans and nonbinary people, according to recent polling from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult.

A separate survey from The Trevor Project found that 45 per cent of trans and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide over the last year.

The results of a wide-ranging survey from The Washington Post and KFF found that a vast majority of trans Americans are satisfied with their lives after transitioning.

While most trans people have socially transitioned, meaning they have changed their pronouns, names and/or clothing, far fewer have medically transitioned; less than one third have used hormone treatments or puberty blockers, and roughly one in six have undergone gender-affirming surgery or other surgical treatment to change their physical appearance, according to the survey results.

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