Metro Weekly

Tennesseans Can Be Jailed for Helping Trans Youth Access Care

A new Tennessee law will jail people for up to a year if they assist trans youth in accessing gender-affirming care.

Gov. Bill Lee – Original Photo: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Darrell Hamm

A bill that was quietly signed into law by Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee last week will criminalize any adult who assists a transgender minor with accessing gender-affirming care without the parents’ consent. 

Tennessee already has a statute on the books criminalizing doctors who prescribe gender-affirming treatments to minors, which Lee signed into law in 2021.

The law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge after three families of transgender children sued, claiming it was unconstitutional and discriminatory.

But last year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to uphold the judge’s ruling, allowing the ban to take effect. As a result, it is nearly impossible for transgender youth to obtain any transition-related medical care in Tennessee.

Under the new law, set to take effect on July 1, anyone who helps a child access gender-affirming care without parental consent can be sued for compensation by the minor or the minor’s parents.

Those who violate the law can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, usually punishable by up to a year in jail. An earlier version of the law would have made it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Because the existing restriction on gender-affirming care is likely to intimidate qualified doctors from treating transgender youth patients, the only option for transgender youth seeking treatments for gender dysphoria would be to travel to out-of-state clinics.

The law’s language mirrors that of anti-abortion legislation making it a crime for adults to assist minors in obtaining abortion pills or helping transport them over state lines to obtain an abortion without parental consent, which Lee also signed into law last week.

There are exceptions in the trans-specific law: parents of transgender youth and adults who have permission from a minor’s parents are able to transport those youth to out-of-state clinics where they can obtain gender-affirming care.

The bill also makes an exception for transportation companies, including those operating ride-sharing apps, buses, or airlines, that may unwittingly transport minors to clinics where gender-affirming care is offered.

“I want to be clear that this in no way bars parents or legal guardians from helping their child access medical care that they need out-of-state,” Bryan Davidson, a policy director at the ACLU of Tennessee, told HuffPost. “I think that this is an attempt by the legislature to try to use misinformation and intimidation to try to get parents and families to self-censor themselves and to police their own behavior. That is the concerning part.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality, which provides small grants and in-depth information on out-of-state venues where gender-affirming care can be obtained, said that because it provides those services to the parents of transgender youth, the law should not impact its Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project program.

The program will continue to provide families of trans youth with monetary and educational support, despite bans being passed in nearly every Southern state. 

“It’s obvious that the Tennessee legislature is trying to intimidate families of transgender youth — piling additional fear onto the mountain of financial and logistical burdens that parents are grappling with in the face of the existing healthcare ban in Tennessee,” Adam Polaski, communications and political director for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said. “But we want to be clear: This development does not block parents from traveling with their child out of state to access the healthcare they need and deserve.”

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