Four families of transgender youth in Georgia have sued to block the state’s new restrictions on gender-affirming care, which are set to take effect on July 1.
The law, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March, prohibits minors from receiving hormone replacement therapy or gender confirmation surgeries to assist them in transitioning to a gender that does not match their assigned sex at birth.
Under the law, doctors are still able to prescribe puberty blockers for transgender-identifying or nonbinary youth. But those doctors who prescribe hormone therapy to minors, or refer youth to doctors willing to administer such treatments, can be disciplined, potentially even putting their license to practice at risk.
While surgical interventions are rarely recommended for minors, the four families argue in their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, that the restrictions force parents of transgender children to either abide by the law or choose treatments that are recommended to treat their children’s feelings of gender dysphoria.
Additionally, seeking out such care may entail either leaving the state altogether or traveling long distances outside of Georgia in order to find doctors who are willing to treat transgender youth without fear of losing their license — taking up a substantial amount of time, and in some cases, money, particularly if their insurance will not cover the treatments.
Proponents of bans on gender-affirming care say they’re needed to protect minors from pursuing irreversible treatments that they may grow to regret later in life. But opponents — including most mainstream medical and mental health organizations — say such laws will exacerbate transgender youths’ gender dysphoria, as well as feelings of depression, isolation, or suicidal ideation.
Specifically, the families of the transgender youth argue that the ban on hormone therapy discriminate against transgender youth on the basis of both sex and gender identity by only restricting transition-related health care but not other types. They also argue that the law infringes on the fundamental right of the parents of transgender youth to make medical decisions they believe are in their children’s best interest.
The plaintiffs are asking a judge to issue an injunction to temporarily stop the state from enforcing the law while they battle over its constitutionality in court. They are being represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU of Georgia, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and two large law firms.
A spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr told Atlanta-area radio station WABE that the attorney general will do his job, which includes defending any law passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, including the ban on gender-affirming care.
At least 20 other states with Republican-dominated legislatures, in addition to Georgia, have passed laws restricting gender-affirming care. But several of those laws have been blocked by the courts. Earlier this month, a federal court struck down an Arkansas law prohibiting gender-affirming care as unconstitutional.
Judges have blocked similar bans in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana from taking effect on the grounds that they may be unconstitutional. Additionally, the ACLU and its Oklahoma affiliate secured a binding agreement with Oklahoma’s attorney general that effectively prevents the state from enforcing its own ban.
The plaintiffs in the Georgia case argue that puberty blockers, which are allowed under the law, are supposed to provide a stepping stone to hormone therapy, which is banned under the law. They say that as long as the prohibition on hormones remains in place, they cannot ensure their children are receiving the appropriate medical care they require.
“Our sweet, bright and creative daughter has been a girl for as long as she can remember,” one of the parent plaintiffs, referred to as “Anna Zoe” in the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Her identity as a girl is as natural and innate as any of the other attributes she was born with — blue eyes, left-handedness, and an infectious laugh. Access to gender-affirming care will allow our daughter to develop into the person she has always wanted to be, and the person she has always been inside.”
“My child may not legally have a voice to be heard, but I do, and I will not be silent — I will fight for my child to have the freedom to be exactly who she says she is,” another parent, referred to as Hailey Moe, in the lawsuit, added. “Having access to gender-affirming care is critical — it means my daughter has a greater chance of living a happy, thriving, fulfilling life.”
“Georgia parents of transgender youth want what all Georgia parents want — to be able to support and protect their children and to provide them with the care they need to be healthy and thrive,” Cory Isaacson, the legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “Gender-affirming health care is best-practice, evidence-based medical treatment that is necessary for the health and happiness of many transgender youth.
“SB 140 prohibits Georgia parents from being able to get their children that essential health care, substituting the will of state politicians for the decision-making of parents and the professional judgment of medical providers,” Isaacson added. “This lawsuit is about securing the rights of Georgia parents to care for their children, and securing the rights of transgender youth to access the medical treatment they need.”
Statewide LGBTQ rights organization Georgia Equality, which is not involved in the lawsuit, condemned the ban nonetheless as an “unscientific attack on the health and freedoms of people across Georgia,” and accused proponents of the ban of spreading misinformation about what types of gender-affirming care are generally recommended to minors, and accusing them of lying about safeguards currently in place to ensure whether pursuing gender-affirming care is best for individual patients.
Jeff Graham, the group’s executive director, noted in a statement that the law does not restrict gender-affirming care for those who have already begun it prior to the law taking effect.
“Young people who start hormone therapy before July 1st will be able to continue receiving treatment. Young people in Georgia will still be able to access medications that temporarily pause puberty, which are not restricted or banned by this new law,” he noted. “The law does not restrict families from leaving Georgia to access care in states where it’s legal to do so.”
Graham added: “We, like federal courts in Arkansas and Florida, believe these restrictions on health care to be unconstitutional. While we hope for a swift injunction, we are working to provide our community with the best information we have on what the impact will be if the law does take effect, even briefly.”
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