Metro Weekly

Tennessee Sued Over Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

Three families with trans children say the law is discriminatory, interferes in their parenting decisions, and conflicts with federal law.

Illustration by Todd Franson.

Several parents of transgender children are suing the state of Tennessee over a recently passed law prohibiting children from accessing gender-affirming care and prosecuting doctors who recommend such treatments.

The three plaintiff families — led by Samantha and Brian Williams, the parents of a 15-year-old transgender daughter, with two other families filing anonymously — enlisted the help of Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee and law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, and sued the state over the law.

Dr. Susan Lacy, a Memphis-based doctor, is also a plaintiff in the suit, and argues that the law will force her to choose between risking her medical license or hampering her relationship with her patients when she’s barred from prescribing the best evidence-based treatments recommended for patients suffering from gender dysphoria.

Under the law, transgender minors are barred from receiving any form of gender-affirming care, including hormone therapy or puberty blockers.

Additionally, the law requires that those minors already receiving gender-affirming care stop their course of treatment by March 31, 2024, nine months after the law officially takes effect in July.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminates on the basis of both sex and gender identity by prohibiting certain medical treatments for transgender patients, while still allowing doctors to recommend those same treatments to other patients, so long as they do not identify as transgender.

The parents in the lawsuit argue that the law infringes on their parental right to seek out and obtain appropriate medical care for their children.

The lawsuit also argues that the ban on gender-affirming care runs afoul of federal protections in the Affordable Care Act that prohibit discrimination against patients on the basis of sex.

As a result, Lacy, and other doctors with transgender patients are forced to choose between violating federal law by refusing to prescribe proper treatments, or violating state law by providing such care.

Additionally, the plaintiffs argue that Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits health care agencies or programs that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex, putting state law once again in conflict with federal law, which supersedes the former. 

“Families of transgender youth, like every family, do everything they can to love and support their children and keep them safe. They spend years discussing gender-affirming care with medical professionals and only proceed when such care is medically necessary,” Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said in a statement.

“The brave families filing this lawsuit are taking a stand for their transgender children despite being targeted by hateful politicians and media personalities,” Cameron-Vaughn added. “For them, it’s not about politics — it’s about the freedom to access vital, life-saving healthcare for their families. We are proud to be by their side and want all trans youth in Tennessee to know that we see them and will always defend their rights.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the ban on gender-affirming care unconstitutional, and issue both a preliminary injunction, and eventually, a permanent injunction blocking the state from seeking to enforce the law against medical providers or families of transgender youth. The lawsuit also asks the state to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees. 

According to estimates from the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ-specific think tank at the of University of California-Los Angeles, there are about 30,800 transgender people currently living in Tennessee, and an estimated 3,100 transgender youth between the ages of 13 and 17.

The families suing the state over the law have expressed frustration over state lawmakers’ insistence on limiting the type of care their children can receive.

“It was incredibly painful watching my child struggle before we were able to get her the life-saving healthcare she needed. We have a confident, happy daughter now, who is free to be herself and she is thriving,” Samantha 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.”

Her daughter, referred to as L.W. in the lawsuit, said in a statement that she hopes the courts strike down the law. 

“I don’t even want to think about having to go back to the dark place I was in before I was able to come out and access the care that my doctors have prescribed for me,” she said in a statement.”I want this law to be struck down so that I can continue to receive the care I need, in conversation with my parents and my doctors, and have the freedom to live my life and do the things I enjoy.”

“The attack that Tennessee legislators and the governor have launched against transgender youth and their families and providers is stunning in its cruelty,” Sruti Swaminathan, a staff attorney for youth at Lambda Legal. “They are actively ignoring the science, dismissing best-practice medical care, intervening in a parent’s right to care for and love their child, and explicitly exposing trans youth in Tennessee to rampant discrimination. This law is not just harmful and cruel, it is life-threatening.”

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