Metro Weekly

Florida Discourages Gender-Affirming Care For Minors

Florida Department of Health recommends against social transitioning and medical care, conflicting with federal guidance from HHS.

Photo: Todd Franson

Last week, the Florida Department of Health issued guidance discouraging transgender minors suffering from gender dysphoria from socially transitioning or obtaining any gender-affirming health care treatments.

The guidance issued by the department directly conflicts with advice from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and medical experts, who recommend that minors suffering from gender dysphoria obtain treatment based on their individual needs and health assessments — although HHS does not recommend gender confirmation surgery for minors.

In a memo, the Florida Department of Health specifically recommended against minors receiving hormone therapies, puberty-blocking drugs, or gender confirmation surgery to assist in a transition.

The memo also discourages “social transition,” in which no medical procedures are undertaken, but a person may present in public, part-time or full-time, in their identified gender, including wearing gender-affirming hairstyles or clothes.

The memo says children and adolescents should receive “social support” from peers and family members and seek out counseling from a licensed provider.

Although the memo is intended to serve as guidance for medical providers, and is not a firm rule or regulation, it does signify yet another attempt by Florida to push back against the idea of affirming minors’ gender identity.

In recent years, state lawmakers have barred transgender athletes from competing in sports based on their gender identity, and have restricted discussions or content related to gender identity in schools when the information is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, told the Tampa Bay Times the guidance is not enforced by the state, but offers and explains recommendations to families and health care providers.

“Physicians may use guidance from different authoritative sources, including government entities and professional associations, in determining the best course of treatment for their patients,” she said in a statement.

In March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an “information memorandum” urging states to use their child welfare systems to protect and support LGBTQI+ youth, and informing agencies that gender-affirming care is a valid form of medically necessary treatment for transgender youth suffering from gender dysphoria. 

HHS also released guidance making clear that denials of medically necessary health care based on a person’s gender identity are illegal under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, as is restricting doctors from providing such care or prescribing gender-affirming treatments for youth struggling with gender dysphoria.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo accused HHS of publishing its guidance for political and not medical reasons. The federal guidance links to several academic studies and research papers, which were completed by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics — but the Florida Department of Health released a “fact sheet” disputing the findings of those studies.

“The federal government’s medical establishment releasing guidance failing at the most basic level of academic rigor shows that this was never about health care,” Ladapo wrote. “It was about injecting political ideology into the health of our children.”

But LGBTQ rights organization Equality Florida said that it is the DeSantis administration who is playing political games.

“Once again, the DeSantis Administration seeks to replace science and the safety of young people with political propaganda. The Florida Department of Health has released non-binding guidance opposing science-backed health care for transgender children,” the statement said.

“This guidance demonizes life-saving, medically-necessary care, and asserts that the government, not parents, knows best when it comes to health care for our children. And, once again, DeSantis wants the government to intrude into doctors’ offices to pander to extremists in service to his political ambitions.

“Parents should be deciding, in partnership with their child’s doctor, based on science, not politics, what is best for their children. Governor DeSantis’ runaway agenda of banning books, muzzling teachers, censoring history, and pushing government control is putting a handful of extremists in charge of every aspect of the lives of Floridians and is making the state less safe for LGBTQ families, especially transgender children.”

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