Montana judge blocks law banning gender-affirming care for trans youth, just 4 days before it's to take effect

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A state judge in Montana on Wednesday temporarily blocked a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, just four days before the law was set to take effect.

Senate Bill 99, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte in April, prohibits gender-affirming treatment for minors, while also restricting social transitioning — a process that typically involves a change in first names, pronouns, hairstyle and clothing to reflect a person’s gender identity.

Earlier this year, three transgender children and their families, as well as two medical providers who work with transgender youth, filed a lawsuit in Missoula District Court arguing the law violates their rights under the Montana Constitution — including the right to privacy, equal protection and the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs — the American Civil Liberties Union, its Montana affiliate, the LGBTQ rights advocacy group Lambda Legal, and the private law firm Perkins Coie — urged the court to block enforcement of the ban, which they slammed as a “direct assault on the freedom and well-being of transgender youth, their families, and their medical providers.”

On Wednesday, Missoula County District Court Judge Jason Marks found that SB99 “is unlikely to survive any level of constitutional review.” He also wrote that “barring access to gender-affirming care would negatively impact gender dysphoric minors’ mental and physical health.”

Condemned by critics as “draconian” and “particularly cruel,” SB99 made headlines earlier this year after Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who’s trans, was silenced by her Republican colleagues for saying those who vote in favor of the legislation would “have blood on (their) hands.”

“We are gratified the judge understood the danger of denying transgender Montana youth access to gender-affirming care as the challenge to this cruel and discriminatory law proceeds,” Kell Olson, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said Wednesday in a statement.

However, even though the ruling permits the plaintiffs “to breathe a sigh of relief,” the “fight is far from over,” said Akilah Deernose, executive director of the ACLU of Montana. “We look forward to vindicating our clients’ constitutional rights and ensuring that this hateful law never takes effect.”

The preliminary injunction will remain in effect as the lawsuit challenging the law proceeds through court.