Justice Department sues Tenn. over law banning health care for transgender youth

  • by Washington Blade
  • Thursday April 27, 2023
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The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a complaint against Tennessee's law that bans health care for trans youth Photo: Michael K. Lavers/Washington Blade
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a complaint against Tennessee's law that bans health care for trans youth Photo: Michael K. Lavers/Washington Blade

The Justice Department on April 26 filed a complaint challenging Tennessee's Senate Bill 1, a recently enacted law that denies necessary medical care to youth based solely on who they are.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, alleges that SB 1's ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect on July 1.

SB 1 makes it unlawful to provide or offer to provide certain types of medical care for transgender minors with diagnosed gender dysphoria. SB 1's blanket ban prohibits potential treatment options that have been recommended by major medical associations for consideration in limited circumstances in accordance with established and comprehensive guidelines and standards of care.

By denying only trans youth access to these forms of medically necessary care while allowing non-trans minors access to the same or similar procedures, SB 1 discriminates against trans youth, according to the complaint.

The department's complaint alleges that SB 1 violates the equal protection clause by discriminating on the basis of both sex and trans status. Doctors, parents, and anyone else who provides or offers to provide the prohibited care faces the possibility of civil suits for 30 years and other sanctions.

"No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status," stated Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "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 Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will continue to aggressively challenge all forms of discrimination and unlawful barriers faced by the LGBTQI+ community."

"SB 1 violates the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee's most vulnerable citizens," said U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee. "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."

Wednesday's filings are the latest action by the Justice Department to combat LGBTQ discrimination, including unlawful restrictions on medical care for trans youth.

On March 31, 2022, Clarke issued a letter to all state attorneys general reminding them of federal constitutional and statutory provisions that protect trans youth against discrimination.

On April 29, 2022, the Justice Department intervened in a lawsuit challenging a law in Alabama (Senate Bill 184) that imposes a felony ban on medically necessary care for transgender minors. As a result of that litigation, the most significant provisions of Alabama's SB 184 have been preliminarily halted from going into effect, and the United States continues to challenge its constitutionality.

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