A federal judge in Kentucky has temporarily blocked part of a state law prohibiting transgender minors suffering from gender dysphoria from accessing gender-affirming treatments.
On June 28, U.S. District Judge David Hale, of the Western District of Kentucky issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the state from seeking to enforce Section 4 of Senate Bill 150, a sweeping anti-LGBTQ bill that, in addition to barring gender-affirming medical care for minors, restricts which restroom and locker room facilities transgender students can use, allowing teachers and other students to misgender trans-identifying minors, and prohibits certain types of classroom instruction on LGBTQ-related topics and topics related to sexuality, HIV, or other sexually-transmitted diseases.
The measure was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in March over concerns that it infringed not only on LGBTQ students’ right to freedom of expression and equal protection under the law, but the parental rights parents who choose to affirm their children’s identities.
In issuing the injunction, Hale sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which sued to overturn the law on behalf of seven families with transgender children. The families say the law singles out transgender youth for discrimination, and limits parents’ right to make informed medical decisions for their own children.
The injunction, issued hours before the law was slated to take effect on June 29, prohibits the state from enforcing parts of the law seeking to block minors from accessing — with their parents’ consent — puberty blockers and hormone therapy, as well as mental health services on how to deal with their feelings of gender dysphoria.
The plaintiffs did not challenge the state’s ban on gender confirmation surgeries, which are rarely prescribed for individuals under 18 and, according to experts, were not recommended to any minors in Kentucky. That part of the law has gone into effect.
In siding with the plaintiffs, Hale found that they had demonstrated “strong likelihood” of convincing the court that the law is unconstitutional, and blocked the state from attempting to enforce the law until courts reach a final decision based on the merits of the plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments.
“[T]he Court find that the treatments barred by SB 150 are medically appropriate and necessary for some transgender children under the evidence-based standard of care accepted by all major medical organizations in the United States,” Hale wrote in his decision. “These drugs have a long history of safe use in minors for various conditions. It is undisputed that puberty-blockers and hormones are not given to prepubertal children with gender dysphoria.”
Beshear, who is running for re-election this year, pointed to Hale’s ruling as evidence that he was right to veto the bill for being overly broad and interfering in personal family and medical decisions, reports the Courier-Journal, a Louisville-based newspaper.
“Well, a federal judge ruled what I believe: that parents have the legal right to make important and sometimes difficult medical decisions for their kids — that a parent should always be trusted to make medical decisions for their children, not government,” Beshear told reporters a day after the ruling was issued. “This is one where I believe in the rights of parents, being a parent, to do what’s right for their kids.”
But Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the Republican nominee for governor who is challenging Beshear in November’s election, has since appealed the ruling, calling Hale’s decision “misguided” and arguing that it “tramples the right of the General Assembly to make public policy for the Commonwealth.”
“There is nothing ‘affirming’ about this dangerous approach to mental health, and my office will continue to do everything in our power to defend this law passed by our elected representatives,” Cameron added.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs celebrated the temporary injunction and the fact that Hale had found their arguments convincing enough to rule that they were likely to succeed in having the law declared unconstitutional.
“This decision is a huge relief for the families targeted by this unnecessary and harmful law, which prevents doctors from doing their jobs and parents from making medical decisions for their own children,” Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “We are grateful that the court carefully considered all of the evidence and recognized that there is no support for this dangerous and unprecedented law.”
“We are grateful to the Court for enjoining this egregious ban on medically necessary care, which would have caused harm for countless young Kentuckians,” added Corey Shapiro, the legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky. “This is a win, but it is only the first step. We’re prepared to fight for families’ right to make their own private medical decisions in court, and to continue doing everything in our power to ensure access to medical care is permanently secured in Kentucky.”
At least 20 other states have passed laws restricting gender-affirming care and at least four other states are considering bans similar to Kentucky’s. However, some states’ bans have been challenged in court, with federal judges ruling against proponents of bans.
A federal judge has struck down a 2021 Arkansas law prohibiting gender-affirming care as unconstitutional, while other judges have issued injunctions blocking nearly identical laws in Tennessee, Alabama, and Indiana from taking effect on the grounds that they may be found to be unconstitutional. Another judge recently declared a Florida administrative rule seeking to bar Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming treatments to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s top statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, praised Hale’s ruling, calling the ban on gender-affirming care “egregious.”
“Kentucky’s trans kids and their families have been living in fear of the approaching date the law would take effect — they can all breathe a sigh of relief now as reason wins out over hateful, discriminatory rhetoric,” Hartman said in a statement. “We knew Senate Bill 150 was unconstitutional when state lawmakers rushed it through in the final days of the legislative session, and now all of Kentucky knows it too.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!