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Families of trans youth sue Oklahoma over its new gender-affirming healthcare ban

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A gender-affirming care doctor and five families with transgender teens have filed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s S.B. 613, a new law banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed the law on May 2.

The lawsuit — filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP — represents the families and Dr. Shauna Lawlis of Oklahoma University (OU). They say the newly signed law “unjustly and unfairly targets them and gender-affirming health care in violation” of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which protects citizens from unequal application of laws.

The trans teens, given aliases in the lawsuit, “have been thriving because they have the loving support of their parents and access to medically necessary care and treatments for their gender dysphoria,” the lawsuit states. The teens have increased confidence, are more active in their communities, and have less fear of being misgendered. If S.B. 613 stands, the teens will be forced to de-transition, risking their mental health and well-being, the lawsuit says.

S.B. 613 bans all forms of this lifesaving health care – including reversible puberty blockers – for anyone under the age of 18. It also makes it a felony for doctors to provide this care to trans youth and allows prosecution of health care professionals until their patients turn 45. Oklahoma is at least the 16th state to have instituted a gender-affirming care ban.

Oklahoma’s ban, the lawsuit continues, “passed despite the sustained and robust opposition of medical experts in Oklahoma and across the country.” The ban “will cause severe and irreparable harm” if allowed to stand, the lawsuit adds, as the teens’ families are considering leaving “their jobs, businesses, extended families, and communities” — at a great personal and financial cost — to relocate to states where their children can access gender-affirming care.

During legislative hearings on a proposed gender-affirming healthcare ban, state Rep. Jim Olsen (R) said trans identity was a path of “desolation, destruction, degeneracy, and delusional play-acting.” He said trans teens need “wise and clear biblical guidance” rather than gender-affirming care. State Rep. Justin Humphrey (R) compared gender-affirming care to “starving your child to death.”

Gender-affirming care is considered safe and often essential to the well-being of trans youth. This assertion is backed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and other major healthcare groups.

The lawsuit’s defendants include the state’s attorney general and officials with OU, state medical licensing boards, and the University Hospitals Authority and Trust, a state entity that oversees university medical centers.

Of the legal challenge, Lambda Legal counsel and health care strategist Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said, “Based on nothing but animus towards transgender people and a campaign of misinformation and disinformation, Oklahoma officials have decided to prohibit the provision of necessary, safe, and effective evidence-based medical care for trans adolescents in Oklahoma.”

“We will not stand idly by as discriminatory laws endanger our community,” Gonzalez-Pagan continued. “Trans youth in Oklahoma and elsewhere deserve no less. We are proud to represent, alongside our co-counsel, these five courageous families and a caring doctor, who together are standing up for their rights.” 

Lamda Legal noted that, in September 2022, Oklahoma legislators threatened to withhold COVID funding from OU hospitals if they didn’t end their Roy G. Biv LGBTQ+ health program supporting transgender youth. Also, in March 2023, the state legislature censured state Rep. Mauree Turner (D), the state’s only openly nonbinary lawmaker, for shielding a trans-rights protestor from arrest by Capitol police — Turned refused to apologize for her actions.

Megan Lambert, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said, “Oklahoma consistently ushers in the bottom of almost every list nationwide, from education and incarceration to healthcare and privacy, but lawmakers choose to spend their time pushing dangerous rhetoric on topics they know nothing about and attacking transgender children, instead of addressing the real issues Oklahomans face day to day.” 

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