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Trans advocates say judge's ruling is welcome, but 'damage' has been done

FILE A handful of protestors took to the streets of downtown Bradenton Tuesday evening to condemn Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest bill signing, calling it a methodical attack on transgender rights.
Ryan Callihan
The Miami Herald
A handful of protestors condemn Gov. Ron DeSantis ' 2023 signing of the bill.

Federal judge Robert Hinkle, of the Northern District of Florida, said SB 254 was only passed out of a sense of “anti-transgender animus” from elected officials. The federal ruling comes too late for transgender adults who've already left the state.

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a Florida law that restricted medical care for the transgender community, calling it unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The ruling means that, immediately, transgender people in Florida can have access to the same medical care they were able to receive two years ago, before SB 254 was signed into law in 2023.

U.S. judge Robert Hinkle said the law was only passed out of a sense of “anti-transgender animus” from elected officials.

The law banned gender-affirming care for minors. Another part created restrictions on health care for transgender adults, requiring that they only be treated by licensed physicians and banning telehealth screenings. Many transgender individuals receive medical attention from registered nurses, who are often hired for lower costs by nonprofits that serve the LGBTQ+ community.

Last year, Corinne Mariposa, a transgender woman from Miami, spoke to WLRN about how the law immediately put at risk her ability to find gender-affirming medications since she received care from a nurse practitioner.

“It started the day after this law was signed. I went to a regular appointment at my regular care provider that I’ve had for the last five years and my nurse practitioner told me in the hallway that they could no longer legally see me,” she said last year.

The effects of having her access to medical care took several months to sort out, she told WLRN on Wednesday.

“I did what most every trans person I knew did, which was get their pills from Canada or Venezuela,” she said.

The federal ruling is a welcome development, but it comes too late for many transgender adults, she said. That’s because several transgender friends chose to leave Florida after the law went into effect.

“They aren’t coming back,” said Mariposa.

“Everything was adjusted to this hateful law, most of the organizations that serve the community have already made the switch to hiring full physicians,” she said. “What will be impacted most of all is adolescent care. For adults, the damage has already been done.”

Despite that, she hopes the decision will deter other states from enacting similar laws. Florida was the first state to pass such a sweeping law restricting access to gender-affirming care.

“I can see there being very positive impacts across the U.S.,” said Mariposa.

The case was certified class-action, so it impacts every transgender person in the state.

“One of the greatest harms that came from this law was the number of transgender adults who — in one day — were immediately displaced from their care,” said Simone Chriss, an attorney with Southern Legal Counsel, a group that took the case to trial.

“They had trusted medical providers who have expertise in the treatment of gender dysphoria, and so many of my adult clients have not been able to establish care with a new provider.”

'No factual basis'

During the trial, the state was unable to put forward a witness who regretted receiving gender-affirming medical care in the state.

Hinkle singled out comments made by Gov. Ron DeSantis and other lawmakers suggesting that giving children gender-affirming medical care amounted to castration or sterilization.

“At least insofar as has been shown by this record, no transgender minor has ever been castrated or intentionally sterilized in Florida or elsewhere,” Hinkle wrote in the opinion. He added that in the closing arguments of the trial, attorneys for the state “admitted that there was absolutely no factual basis for these remarks.”

The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academic Pediatric Association and other medical groups and associations filed briefs with the court siding with transgender individuals and against the state in the court case. Hinkle said that he heavily relied on guidance from the groups in reaching his conclusions.

“Transgender opponents are, of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender,” the judge wrote.

Chriss told WLRN the judge’s ruling has been a balm for a community that felt real harm from the law.

“Honestly, laying out some of the horrific things that have been said and the ways in which Florida has really just attacked trans people across the board has been so validating for the people who have been living through this,” said Chriss.

The DeSantis administration said that it will appeal the ruling.

”We disagree with the court’s erroneous rulings on the law, on the facts, and on the science,” Julia Friedland, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary, wrote in a statement. “As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

In the meantime, transgender people in Florida can access the care they could access before SB 254 went into effect.

“Right now, this order is binding,” said Chriss. “People can access care freely.”

Copyright 2024 WLRN Public Media

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.