Metro Weekly

Justice Dept. Sues Tennessee Over Transgender Treatment Ban

Complaint intervening in lawsuit brought by families of trans youth argues that the law is both discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (center) – Original photo: Office of the Governor. Image design by Todd Franson

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint challenging Tennessee’s recently passed ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, joining a lawsuit brought by three families of transgender minors.

In the complaint, the Justice Department argues that the law prohibiting access to gender-affirming care discriminates against transgender individuals under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

As such, the complaint asks the court to issue an order blocking the law from going into effect on July 1.

Under the bill, SB 1, which easily passed on a largely party-line vote in the Republican-dominated state legislature, healthcare providers are prohibited from providing puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or surgical interventions to minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Those who do, as well as the parents of any minors who allow their children to receive such treatments, can be sued for up to 30 years afterwards if the patient later experiences “regret,” and medical providers can potentially lose their license to practice.

In its complaint, the Justice Department argues that the law’s blanket ban on all types of medical interventions to treat gender dysphoria prohibits patients from receiving the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and best-recommended treatments, and forces doctors to decide between keeping their licenses or providing the best available care to their patients.

The complaint also notes that the blanket ban discriminates against transgender people on the basis of both sex and transgender identity, denying them certain types of treatments, such as hormone therapy, that would otherwise be offered to cisgender individuals experiencing various ailments or conditions where hormonal interventions might be a recommended course of treatment.

“SB 1 violates the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens,” U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis, of the Middle District of Tennessee, said in a statement.

“Left unchallenged, it would prohibit transgender children from receiving health care that their medical providers and their parents have determined to be medically necessary. In doing so, the law seeks to substitute the judgment of trained medical professionals and parents with that of elected officials and codifies discrimination against children who already face far too many obstacles.”

“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. 

“The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety and suicide. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will continue to aggressively challenge all forms of discrimination and unlawful barriers faced by the LGBTQI+ community.”

The Justice Department has previously sought to intervene in instances where it believes transgender people are being discriminated against, including blanket bans on gender-affirming care.

Last month, Clarke issued a letter to all state attorneys general reminding them of various federal protections that apply to transgender youth.

Last year, the Justice Department took a similar action by intervening in a lawsuit brought by LGBTQ advocates against a nearly identical ban on gender-affirming care in Alabama. That law remains stalled after a federal judge issued an order blocking the state from enforcing the law.

The Human Rights Campaign praised the Justice Department for challenging the Tennessee law just as it did the Alabama law. 

“Rather than tackle any real issue at stake for Tennesseans, the legislature and Governor Lee decided to attack vulnerable youth who are at the mercy of politicians who think they know better than families, doctors, and the greater medical community,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement. “Gender affirming care is life-saving care. Period.”

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