As Florida gender-affirming care ban takes effect, parents say they intend to sue

Two Florida parents with transgender children said on Thursday they plan to challenge in federal court a new state health department rule that bars transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming health care.

Florida’s state medical boards last month approved a first-of-its-kind rule prohibiting health care providers from providing puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries to transgender minors, despite pushback and protest from the LGBTQ and medical communities.

The rule, which took effect Thursday, applies to youth who have not begun treatment. It conflicts with guidance set by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and the Endocrine Society. Most major medical associations have argued that gender-affirming health care for transgender youth and adults is medically necessary and often life-saving.

“We know how essential it is for our daughter to get the medical care she needs, and this ban terrifies us,” one Florida mother who plans to sue the state over the new rule said Thursday in a statement, using the pseudonym Jane Doe.

Doe said her family has worked closely with health care providers since her daughter, 11-year-old Susan Doe, was young. Because Susan Doe has not yet started puberty, she has not been prescribed puberty blockers, her mother said; under the new law, she will now not be eligible to receive gender-affirming medical care prior to her 18th birthday.

“This ban bars us from getting her the treatment she needs when she hits puberty,” Doe said Thursday. “Our daughter is a happy, confident child, but denying her access to the medical care recommended by her doctors would completely disrupt her life. I’m devastated by what this will mean for her physical and mental health.”

Several studies have found that puberty blockers, which pause puberty and prevent unwanted changes to young transgender people’s bodies, can lower rates of anxiety and depression in transgender youth and adults. In a 2020 study, transgender individuals who wanted puberty suppressants and were able to access them were less likely to report having considered suicide.

Doe, who is not able to move her family out of Florida because her husband, John Doe, is stationed there as a senior officer in the U.S. Navy, said the new rule discriminates against families like hers.

“We have no choice but to stay here and fight for our daughter,” Doe said. “The military doctors have been nothing but supportive of our family, and our military insurance covers my daughter’s recommended care. But because of where we live, our family will now be treated differently than other military families who are doing the same job to serve our country in states without discriminatory bans like this one.”

A second Florida mother who intends to join the lawsuit on behalf of herself and her 14-year-old son said the new health department rule is “cruel and unnecessary.”

“My son was finally getting to a place where he felt hopeful, where being prescribed testosterone was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body, but that has been ripped away by this discriminatory rule,” she said Thursday. “I am so worried about the impact that lack of access to medical treatment will have on my child. It is every parents’ worst nightmare to have to worry about the unthinkable.”

The parents and their children are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign.

In a statement on Thursday, Simone Chriss, the director of the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative, accused members of Florida’s medical boards of pushing forward a political agenda that is not rooted in science. Board members are appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has called for legal action against doctors who provide gender-affirming care to youth.

“There is an unbelievable degree of hypocrisy when a state that holds itself out as being deeply concerned with protecting ‘parents’ rights’ strips parents of their right to ensure their children receive appropriate medical care,” Chriss said Thursday. “I have worked with families and their health-care providers in Florida for many years. They work tirelessly every day to ensure the best health outcomes for their kids and patients, and they are worried sick about the devastating impacts that this ban will have.”

Florida in August also enacted a separate rule preventing the state’s transgender residents, regardless of their age, from using Medicaid to help pay for gender-affirming health care. The enforcement of that rule is also being challenged in federal court.

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