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Advocacy groups sue Tennessee over anti-trans healthcare law

transgender flag with a pharmacy symbol in front of it
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Tennessee’s law anti-transgender healthcare law has received its first legal challenge.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Nashville on behalf of three families with transgender children and a Memphis doctor who provides gender-affirming care to block Tennessee’s S.B. 1.

S.B. 1 was passed by state Republicans in February and signed into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) in early March. The law, which is set to take effect on July 1, bans Tennessee doctors from providing gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy, to anyone under the age of 18. The law would also require trans young people who are already receiving gender-affirming care to end their treatment by March 31, 2024. At the time, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Tennessee said they would sue the state over the law.

According to Reuters, Lambda Legal and the ACLU’s lawsuit says that S.B. 1 unlawfully discriminates against transgender people based on their sex in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. It also violates prohibitions on sex discrimination in the provision of healthcare in the Affordable Care Act, according to the lawsuit.

Every major U.S. medical and mental health association has said that gender-affirming care is essential to treating gender dysphoria in trans youth. The lawsuit echoes these claims.

In a statement, Sruti Swaminathan, staff attorney for youth at Lambda Legal, said that Tennessee legislators and Lee “are actively ignoring the science, dismissing best-practice medical care, intervening in a parent’s right to care for and love their child, and explicitly exposing trans youth in Tennessee to rampant discrimination. This law is not just harmful and cruel, it is life-threatening.”

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, called the law “an unconscionable attack on transgender youth and their families.”

“There is simply no reason other than ignorance or prejudice to single out gender-affirming care for a categorical ban based on standards that Tennessee does not apply to any other type of medical treatment,” Block said in the Thursday press release. “Transgender families should not have to flee their home state to access this necessary medical care.”

“The brave families filing this lawsuit are taking a stand for their transgender children despite being targeted by hateful politicians and media personalities,” said ACLU Tennessee staff attorney Lucas Cameron-Vaughn. “For them, it’s not about politics — it’s about the freedom to access vital, life-saving health care for their families.”

“It was incredibly painful watching my child struggle before we were able to get her the life-saving healthcare she needed,” said Samantha Williams, who, along with her husband Brian and their daughter, are one of the families named in the lawsuit. “We have a confident, happy daughter now, who is free to be herself and she is thriving. I am so afraid of what this law will mean for her. We don’t want to leave Tennessee, but this legislation would force us to either routinely leave our state to get our daughter the medical care she desperately needs, or to uproot our entire lives and leave Tennessee altogether. No family should have to make this kind of choice.”

“I don’t even want to think about having to go back to the dark place I was in before I was able to come out and access the care that my doctors have prescribed for me,” said the Williams’s daughter. “I want this law to be struck down so that I can continue to receive the care I need, in conversation with my parents and my doctors, and have the freedom to live my life and do the things I enjoy.”

Tennessee was the fourth U.S. state to pass a law banning gender-affirming care for minors. Earlier this year, Mississippi passed a similar law, following Utah and South Dakota. This month, the Republican governors of Indiana and West Virginia also signed laws banning gender-affirming care into law. The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit to block the Indiana law. Other similar laws passed in Arkansas and Alabama have been halted by court challenges.

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