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U.S. sues Tennessee over ban on care for transgender youth

The Justice Department on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s new law banning transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care, one of the several laws the state’s GOP-dominated Statehouse enacted this year targeting LGBTQ+ people.

The federal government is seeking to invalidate the statute because “no person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen
Clarke said in a statement.

The DOJ said the law violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause by discriminating on the basis of
both sex and transgender status.

“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,” Clarke added.

The federal lawsuit comes after Clarke sent a letter to all state attorneys general last month warning them that federal law protects transgender youth against discrimination. The Justice Department also intervened last year in a lawsuit challenging a similar ban on transgender medical care for young people. That lawsuit is ongoing.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed off on prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors earlier this year. The bill was the first proposal filed in this year’s legislative session. Republican leaders did so in response to video surfacing on social media last year of a Nashville doctor touting that gender-affirming procedures are “huge money makers” for hospitals. That hospital has since paused its transgender services for young people.

Republican lawmakers also advanced legislation designed to severely limit where drag shows can take place, making Tennessee the first state to do so. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the statute from being implemented.

Nationally, Republican lawmakers have proposed hundreds of laws aimed at transgender people, with at least 14 states restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors.

Under Tennessee’s law — set to take effect July 1 — doctors will be prohibited from prescribing puberty blockers or hormones, or providing other gender-affirming care to anyone under 18. The law spells out a
handful exceptions, including allowing doctors to perform such medical services if the patient’s care begins before the law goes into effect. In those cases, care must end by March 31, 2024.

Health care providers who violate the ban would be subject to regulatory discipline and could be sued by the state attorney general or private parties. Violations carry a $25,000 penalty.

“Tennessee is committed to protecting children from permanent, life altering decisions,” Gov. Lee said in a statement. “This is federal overreach at its worst, and we will work with Attorney General (Jonathan) Skrmetti to push back in court and stand up for children.”

The Justice Department’s lawsuit is the second complaint challenging the new Tennessee law. Last week, three transgender children and their parents sued the state, claiming the law violates the 14th Amendment’s equal
protection clause because it excludes treatment for gender dysphoria while allowing the same treatments to be used for other conditions. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda
Legal, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Skrmetti’s office promised to “vigorously defend Tennessee’s law.”

“The federal government has joined the ACLU and an elite New York law firm in attacking a bipartisan law that protects children from irreversible harm,” he said in a statement.