Metro Weekly

University of Missouri Sued by Transgender Teens

Two youths are suing the University of Missouri Health System for stopping gender-affirming treatments for transgender minors.

University of Missouri Health Care hospital campus – Photo: MU Health Care

Two transgender boys filed a federal lawsuit seeking to reverse the University of Missouri Health System’s (MU Health Care) decision to stop providing gender-affirming care in response to a ban passed earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, challenges the hospital’s decision, announced in August, to stop prescribing hormones and puberty blockers to minors suffering from gender dysphoria due to fears of “significant legal liability,” reports the Kansas City Star.

MU Health Care made the decision in response to legislation, passed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, that threatens to yank doctors’ licenses to practice if they provide transition-related treatments to minors. It also allows former patients who underwent transition-related treatments but later experienced regret to sue their former medical providers for up to 15 years after they turn 21. 

While Missouri’s law contains an exemption allowing minors who had been prescribed hormonal interventions prior to the law’s passage to continue receiving treatment, MU Health Care erred on the side of caution, shuttering its services to all minors.

In July, a group of families with transgender children, medical providers specializing in transgender health care, and two LGBTQ organizations sued over the law banning gender-affirming care for minors. They requested that a judge block the state from enforcing the ban, which officially took effect in late August. The judge ultimately denied the request, meaning the law can still be enforced while the plaintiffs argue their case on the merits. 

In this most recent lawsuit, the two transgender boys — identified only by their initials, K.J. and J.C. — argue that the university health center’s decision to stop treatment violates federal law, discriminating against the youth on both the basis of sex and disability status.

The suit notes that other children with hormone disorders, so long as they don’t identify as transgender, are still permitted treatments identical to the ones banned for transgender youth.

The lawsuit names the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators, which oversees the university’s main campus in Columbia and three other universities, as a defendant, arguing that the university operates health programs throughout the state and employs health professionals at various healthcare facilities.

Both plaintiffs live in Boone County, where the University of Missouri-Columbia is located, and have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

J. Andrew Hirth, the attorney for the plaintiffs, argues in the suit that both clients will face “irreparable harm” if they are unable to have their prescriptions for hormones or puberty blockers refilled.

“As a direct and proximate result of the University’s refusal to renew prescriptions necessary to treat Plaintiffs’ gender dysphoria, Plaintiffs have suffered and will continue to suffer injury, including, but not limited to, the costs of searching for alternative health care providers out of state and the costs of filling prescriptions outside their insurance networks — assuming they are able to find new doctors and refill their prescriptions at all,” the lawsuit states.

J.C., who is described as a teenager, began receiving testosterone treatments last year based on advice from a doctor at MU Health Care. But after the university stopped treating minors, J.C. has been unable to find another doctor willing to refill the prescriptions.

He is expected to run out of his current supply by February. 

“After a year of watching his body start to reflect his male gender identity, the sudden reversion to feminine characteristics will be deeply traumatic to J.C.,” the lawsuit contends.

K.J., the second plaintiff, is younger than J.C. and identified as transgender long before reaching puberty.

As a result, K.J. began taking puberty blockers last year after consulting with a doctor at MU Health Care. He has also struggled to find other providers willing to treat him — even though he would qualify for the exemption in the law — and is expected to run out of medication by February.

“After the promise of going through puberty as a boy, his sudden development of female characteristics will cause K.J. severe emotional and physical distress,” the lawsuit argues.

The lawsuit also claims that, by halting its gender-affirming services for transgender youth, the university violated Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits health programs that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of both sex and disability.

The plaintiffs have asked for both a preliminary injunction to stop the state from trying to enforce the law while their challenge works its way through the court system, and for a permanent injunction blocking the law from being enforced if it is ruled unconstitutional or found to be discriminatory. 

Christian Basi, a University of Missouri System spokesperson, told The Associated Press that the university was reviewing the lawsuit and declined further comment.

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