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Tennessee bans doctors from treating transgender youth with lifesaving healthcare

Doctor auscultating a child/youth with a stethoscope in examination room, Healthcare workers in the Coronavirus Covid19 pandemic
Photo: Shutterstock

The governor of Tennessee has just signed the state’s fifth anti-LGBTQ bill this year alone, banning transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming health care.

Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed S.B. 126, which bans health care professionals from providing gender-affirming care to “gender dysphoric or gender incongruent prepubertal minors.”

Related: Tennessee Republican defends counting Black people as 3/5 of human beings

Tennessee is now the second state – after Arkansas – to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Arkansas’s law is more wide-reaching since it bans care for trans youth under the age of 18, whereas Tennessee’s only affects “prepubertal minors.”

“If lawmakers really care about the best interests of trans youth, they would focus on improving access to quality health care instead of playing doctor themselves,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Patients, parents, and health care providers should be guided by science and medical best practices rather when seeking treatments, not the whims of the state legislators.”

This ban comes on the heels of Tennessee requiring businesses to post signs in front of their bathrooms if they allow transgender people to use the bathroom that conforms with their gender identity.

“This facility has a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom,” the signs will have to say, according to the law.

That law garnered widespread condemnation on social media, with transgender equality advocates saying that the signs could spread fear and hatred.

These two bills are the fourth and fifth anti-LGBTQ bills that the state has passed in just the first five months of this year. Activists have dubbed the bills the state’s “Slate of Hate,” and several other anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced but not yet passed.

Lee signed H.B. 1233 earlier this month, which requires schools to give a “reasonable accommodation” to cisgender students who say they don’t want to share a bathroom with a transgender person. Parents will then be allowed to sue schools if their kids “encounter a person of the opposite sex in a multi-occupancy restroom.”

Last month Lee signed H.B. 529, a law requiring schools to notify parents if sexual orientation or gender identity are going to be mentioned in class 30 days in advance and gives parents the ability to opt their children out so that they don’t have to hear that LGBTQ people exist.

“As a parent, I find out when my child comes home what video they saw that day, not 30 days before so I can protect my own child from that,” Tennessee Rep. Ryan Williams (R) said. “Our kids are young and impressionable, and what we allow in their minds is important.”

And in March he signed H.B. 3, which bans transgender girls and women from playing school sports as their gender. The bill says that a student athlete’s sex is defined by what’s listed on their “original birth certificate” and says that parents “must pay the cost associated with providing evidence” that their daughters are eligible to participate in school athletics if they can’t track down their original birth certificate. That additional “evidence” refers to medical evidence on what sex a student would have been assigned at birth.

LGBTQ advocates are already planning litigation to overturn the bills in federal court. The ACLU of Tennessee has said that it’s working on a lawsuit to challenge the sign law in court and is looking for businesses that will be affected to participate in the lawsuit.

The ACLU of Arkansas is also working on a lawsuit to overturn that state’s ban on gender-affirming health care. They may argue that banning doctors from providing certain procedures to transgender youth – but not to cisgender youth who may still receive puberty blockers for other reasons – violates their constitutional rights.

“This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we’re in it for the long haul,” said ACLU of Arkansas’s Holly Dickson. “Attempting to block trans youth from the care they need simply because of who they are is not only wrong, it’s also illegal, and we will be filing a lawsuit to challenge this law in court.”

And the transgender sports bans being passed across the country are directly defying Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in education, which includes school sports. Several federal courts – including the Supreme Court in its landmark Bostock v. Clayton Co. decision last year – have found that bans on sex-based discrimination also ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination because it’s impossible to discriminate against an LGBTQ person without taking their sex assigned at birth into account.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order earlier this year to enforce Title IX in cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools and the White House has stated that it’s his administration’s policy that “trans rights are human rights.”

“It is the policy of my Administration that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Biden ordered. “For students attending schools and other educational institutions that receive Federal financial assistance, this guarantee is codified, in part, in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”