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Tennessee’s Ban on Gender-Affirming Care Challenged by Department of Justice

Tennessee’s Ban on Gender-Affirming Care Challenged by Department of Justice

Gov. Bill Lee and trans rights protester

The DOJ is looking to join a suit brought by Tennessee families.


The Justice Department filed a complaint on Wednesday that challenges Tennessee’s recent ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, joining a lawsuit filed last week by three local families. The complaint alleges that the bill violates transgender patients’ right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

DOJ lawyers have asked that an immediate order is given to block the law from going into effect on July 1.

Tennessee Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) prohibits health care providers to offer or give certain types of affirming care to trans minors who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Doctors and parents who attempt to offer or provide such health care could face civil suits for 30 years.

“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s civil rights division said in a press release. “The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety, and suicide.”

The DOJ says the bill limits treatments approved and recommended by the country’s major medical associations. It also states that the bill discriminates against transgender youth because procedures banned for trans youth are not for cisgender youth. Tennessee’s bill discriminates both on the basis of sex and transgender identity.

“SB1 violates the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens,” U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee said. “Left unchallenged, it would prohibit transgender children from receiving health care that their medical providers and their parents have determined to be medically necessary. In doing so, the law seeks to substitute the judgment of trained medical professionals and parents with that of elected officials and codifies discrimination against children who already face far too many obstacles.”

Republican Gov. Bill Lee tweeted that the DOJ's legal challenge was "federal overreach at its worst."

The bill is one of about 36 anti-transgender pieces of legislation that have passed state legislatures across the country this year. More than 400 have been introduced.

Tennesse has introduced 15 such bills.

Last week, a suit was brought by Samantha and Brian Williams of Nashville and their 15-year-old transgender daughter, two other plaintiff families filing anonymously, and Dr. Susan Lacy of Memphis. They are represented by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and its Tennessee affiliate, and the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

It names as defendants Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, and various state officials.

“The Heath Care Ban violates the constitutional rights of Tennessee adolescents and their parents, and — if it goes into effect — will cause severe and irreparable harm,” the complaint says. The law violates the constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process as well as Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557, which bans sex discrimination in health care, the suit asserts. The plaintiffs seek to block the law from going into effect.

“It was incredibly painful watching my child struggle before we were able to get her the lifesaving health care she needed. We have a confident, happy daughter now, who is free to be herself, and she is thriving,” Samantha Williams said in a Lambda Legal-ACLU press release. “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.”

Staff attorney for youth at Lambda Legal Sruti Swaminathan said, “The attack that Tennessee legislators and the governor have launched against transgender youth and their families and providers is stunning in its cruelty. They 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.”

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