Federal judges block Kentucky and Tennessee bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth

Judge partially blocks sweeping state law targeting LGBT+ people in the state hours before going into effect

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 28 June 2023 22:15 BST
Kentucky lawmaker Karen Berg urges colleagues to vote against anti-trans law

Federal judges in Kentucky and Tennessee have issued preliminary injunctions that partially block recently passed state laws banning gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, joining several other federal court decisions that have temporarily blocked or struck down a wave of similar laws.

Tennessee US District Judge Eli Richardson, who was appointed by Donald Trump, noted in his ruling on 28 June that “every court to consider preliminarily enjoining a ban on gender-affirming care for minors has found that such a ban is likely unconstitutional,”

“If Tennessee wishes to regulate access to certain medical procedures,” he wrote, “it must do so in a manner that does not infringe on the rights conferred by the United States Constitution, which is of course supreme to all other laws of the land.”

A decision from Kentucky US District Judge David J Hale on 28 June – one day before the law was set to go into effect – follows a legal challenge from a group of seven trans children and their families arguing that the law unconstitutionally singles out trans kids from the healthcare they can receive.

The plaintiffs also argued that the law unconstitutionally restricts a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children.

Judge Hale determined that the plaintiffs demonstrated a strong likelihood to succeed on their constitutional challenges and has blocked the law from going into effect while the legal challenge plays out.

Senate Bill 150 prohibits doctors from providing hormone therapies and puberty blockers to trans minors – treatments that Judge Hale notes “are medically appropriate and necessary for some transgender children under the evidence-based standard of care accepted by all major medical organizations in the United States.”

“These drugs have a long history of safe use in minors for various conditions. It is undisputed that puberty-blockers and hormones are not given to prepubertal children with gender dysphoria,” he wrote.

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the decision is a “huge relief” for the families at the centre of the lawsuit.

“We are grateful that the court carefully considered all of the evidence and recognized that there is no support for this dangerous and unprecedented law,” she added.

The law, denounced as one of the most far-reaching state-level measures targeting LGBT+ people amid an explosion of similar proposals across the US, was initially struck down by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.

A week later, lawmakers in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to override his veto.

The law also determines which bathrooms and locker rooms students can use and prohibits students from using pronouns and names other than those assigned at birth. It also prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, adopting elements of what critics have called “Don’t Say Gay” language introduced in similar legislation across the US.

Those elements of the law are preserved; the lawsuit solely focused on provisions of the law impacting healthcare.

State senator Karen Berg – whose trans son died by suicide weeks before this year’s legislative session – drove opposition to the bill over the last several months.

During legislative debate, she denounced the “absolute willful, intentional hate for a small group of people, who are the weakest and the most vulnerable among us.”

By the end of May, state lawmakers this year had introduced more than 500 bills impacting LGBT+ people, including 220 bills specifically targeting trans and nonbinary Americans, according to an analysis from the Human Rights Campaign.

More than a dozen states have enacted laws or policies banning affirming healthcare for young trans people.

But federal judges in several states have struck down or temporarily blocked similar laws with a series of rulings that refute evidence from Republican officials and their arguments against widely accepted medical guidance.

Last week, a federal judge in Arkansas permanently struck down the state’s first-in-the-nation ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth, finding that the law violates the constitutional rights of trans patients, their families and health providers.

In the Kentucky case, Judge Hale found the government’s arguments “superficial” and “unpersuasive”.

The judge also disputed the state’s arguments that healthcare providers were financially motivated, and shot down purported evidence from “quoted studies from ‘some European countries’ questioning the efficacy of the drugs” and “anecdotes from a handful of ‘detransitioners’” supporting arguments to ban such care entirely.

“Doctors currently decide, based on the widely accepted standard of care, whether puberty-blockers or hormones are appropriate for a particular patient,” he wrote.

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