Apr 21, 2023 - News

ACLU, others sue Tennessee over gender-affirming care ban

Illustration of columns in the colors of the transgender pride flag.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal is suing to stop a new Tennessee law that bans gender-affirming care for minors.

  • The groups are suing on behalf of three Tennessee families with transgender children who stand to lose care when the law goes into effect.

Driving the news: The law, which was a top priority for Tennessee Republicans, is set to go into effect July 1. Minors who are already receiving gender-affirming care will have to discontinue treatment by March 31, 2024.

Why it matters: The lawsuit states that losing access to gender-affirming care such as hormones or puberty blockers could have devastating consequences for transgender children and their families.

  • "Some parents of transgender children are making plans to flee the State to protect their children's health and safety and to obtain the medical treatment their children need," the lawsuit states.
  • "For these parents and hundreds of others across Tennessee, the Ban is creating a sense of desperation at the prospect of watching their children's suffering resume and symptoms possibly worsen as they lose access to the care that has transformed their lives."

Catch up quick: Republicans made the law a top priority after a video surfaced discussing transgender surgeries and other care provided for minors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Surgeries for transgender youth are rare — hormones and puberty blockers are more common options.

  • Supporters framed the gender-affirming care ban as an effort to protect children.
  • But doctors and families pushed back, saying the treatments could be life-saving for children suffering from gender dysphoria.
  • Major medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics support gender-affirming care as medically necessary.

State of play: The lawsuit claims that the Tennessee law violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause because it "discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status by prohibiting certain medical treatments only for transgender patients."

What they're saying: "It was incredibly painful watching my child struggle before we were able to get her the life-saving health care she needed," said Nashville-based plaintiff Samantha Williams, whose daughter was identified as "L.W." in the lawsuit.

  • "We have a confident, happy daughter now, who is free to be herself and she is thriving," Williams said in a statement. "I am so afraid of what this law will mean for her."
  • "We don't want to leave Tennessee, but this legislation would force us to either routinely leave our state to get our daughter the medical care she desperately needs or to uproot our entire lives and leave Tennessee altogether. No family should have to make this kind of choice."

Zoom out: Tennessee is one of several states that has pursued a gender-affirming care ban for minors in recent years.

  • Lawsuits in Arkansas and Alabama were successful in temporarily blocking similar bans.

The latest: The Tennessee attorney general's spokesperson Elizabeth Lane said staff was waiting to receive the lawsuit yesterday.

  • "The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law to protect Tennessee children from the lifelong consequences of these interventions, and we will vigorously defend that law," Lane said.
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