Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Parents say a lawsuit aims to block Florida's 'cruel' ban on gender-affirming care for minors

 Trans advocates hold up "Protect Trans Kids" signs at a joint Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine meeting.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Trans advocates hold up "Protect Trans Kids" signs at a joint Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine meeting.

Courts have blocked enforcement of similar bans in states like Arkansas and Alabama. Plaintiffs say accessing gender-affirming care is essential for trans kids' health and safety.

Lawyers challenging Florida's ban on providing gender-affirming care to minors plan to ask a federal judge to halt the restrictions while the suit is underway.

They filed it in a Tallahassee federal court on Thursday on behalf of four mothers with transgender children ages 9 to 14.

Unlike nine other states that have passed laws restricting access to transgender health care, Florida did so through rules passed by two of its medical boards.

The Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine are barring doctors from providing treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapies to children diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is the distress a person feels when their body doesn’t align with their identity.

The ban denies kids access to treatments most medical associations agree are safe and effective, says Jennifer Levi, senior director of transgender and queer rights at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, one of the groups representing the families. It also overrides parents’ right to protect their kids.

“It's really excruciatingly painful, when you talk to these parents, for them to imagine not being able to provide medical treatment for their kids, not just that they know they need, but that they've seen work,” Levi said.

The parents are anonymous in the lawsuit to protect their children's safety but they live in St. Johns, Alachua, Duval and Orange counties.

“This ban puts me and other Florida parents in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most,” one mother, who has a 14 year-old son, said in a news release using the pseudonym "Brenda Boe."

“My son has a right to receive appropriate, evidence-based medical care. He 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. That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.”

Lawyers say the next step will be to file a motion for a preliminary injunction, which if granted, would allow kids to access health care while litigation continues.

They will have to successfully argue that the ban, if left in place, will cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and their children, explained Simone Chriss, director of Southern Legal Counsel's Transgender Rights Initiative.

"We have at least one kid [involved in the suit] who is right on the precipice of puberty, and I cant fathom what would constitute irreparable harm more than going through puberty and developing secondary sex characteristics that are going to exacerbate this child’s gender dysphoria and make it more difficult for them to live according to their gender identity and just live as themselves," she said.

Under the medical board rules, kids who were already receiving these treatments are allowed to continue. But that could change if a measure making its way through the state legislature passes.

A Florida House panel recently advanced a proposal that would make it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming care for minors, including those currently receiving treatment. The state Senate is also weighing a bill to restrict access to care for transgender kids and make it harder for adults to get treatment as well.

If a law passes, the legal team, which also includes attorneys from National Center for Lesbian Rights and Human Rights Campaign, may need to adjust the suit to challenge that as well, or file an additional complaint.

“Parents just want what's best for their children and you know the legislative efforts, the efforts by these boards, seem to be focused on targeting this vulnerable population and really undermining the health and safety of transgender adolescents,” Levi said.

Courts in Arkansas and Alabama have blocked enforcement of similar bans in the past.

“We are hopeful, we’re optimistic that the court in Florida will recognize what other courts have seen in addressing very similar policies or rules, which is that all of the major medical profession associations to have addressed this issue recognize the established nature of the treatment,” Levi said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.