U.S. judge blocks Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors

By: - June 6, 2023 2:58 pm

Two Florida medical oversight boards held a meeting about proposed rules for treating gender dysphoria for minors in the state on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo by Issac Morgan/Florida Phoenix)

A federal judge in Tallahassee, Florida, has blocked a state ban on administration of gender-affirming therapies, including puberty blockers, hormone therapies, or surgery, for any patient under the age of 18.

The order also addresses legislation recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (SB 254) that codifies Florida state Board of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine rules blocking those therapies and adds civil and criminal penalties for health practitioners providing sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures.

“Gender identity is real,” U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote in his order. “The record makes this clear.”

In his 44-page ruling, Hinkle concluded that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their claim that the prohibition on gender-affirming care for minors is unconstitutional as the lawsuit continues.

He credited testimony by doctors who have treated transgender patients with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones (testosterone for transgender males, estrogen for transgender females) “that denial of this treatment will cause needless suffering for a substantial number of patients and will increase anxiety, depression, and the risk of suicide.”

Hinkle went on to write that “clinical evidence would support” a decision by “a reasonable patient and parent” in consultation with properly trained doctors to use puberty blockers and later hormone therapies to treat a minor undergoing gender dysphoria. “There is no rational basis for a state to categorically ban these treatments,” he wrote.

Critics of gender-reassignment surgery, such as DeSantis, have referred to young people who have later expressed regret for irreversible body-altering treatment as a reason for banning such medical procedures. But in his order, Judge Hinkle wrote that “the defendants have offered no evidence of any Florida resident who regrets being treated with GnRH agonists [regulating sex hormones] or cross-sex hormones.”

DeSantis touted his state’s law as part of his stump speech during his first visit to Iowa as a GOP presidential candidate. “It upsets me to even have to say this, it’s wrong for physicians to perform sex change operation on a minor. That is mutilation. And in the state of Florida, you’re not only going to lose your medical license, you will go to jail if you do that.”

The Iowa Legislature approved a similar ban on gender-affirming care for minors during this year’s legislative session. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law March 22. Iowa’s law has not yet been challenged in court.

Parents filed suit

The lawsuit was filed by seven individuals, the parents of six transgender children that are now under or are poised to begin gender-affirming care. Three of the parents moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. All of them are listed under pseudonyms.

One of those plaintiffs is identified in the lawsuit as “Jane Doe,” the mother of “Susan Doe,” an 11-year-old transgender girl. The suit claims that Susan Doe will need medical treatment when she begins puberty, which could happen at “any day.”

The suit goes on to say that unless the rules were stayed, Susan would be forced to go through male puberty, which would “out” her as transgender to her peers and carry “devastating physical, emotional, and psychological effects.”

In a written statement issued after the order was announced, the plaintiff identified as Jane Doe said she and her husband have been “worried sick about not being able to care for our daughter in the way that we know she needs.”

She continued: “Today my entire family is breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we can now access the treatment that we know will keep Susan healthy and allow her to continue being the happy, confident child she has been.”

Additional plaintiffs

The other two plaintiffs listed in Hinkle’s order are the parents of an 8-year transgender boy and an 11-year-old transgender girl, respectively.

The transgender boy is listed with the pseudonym of Gavin Goe. The suit says that his pediatrician has referred him to a pediatric endocrinologist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital gender clinic in St. Petersburg to assess possible treatment with puberty blockers. Gavin had an appointment with that endocrinologist when the Board of Medicine adopted the rule prohibiting doctors from providing that type of care.

The other transgender youth mentioned in the order, going under the pseudonym of Lisa Loe, has “begun puberty and needs GnRH agonists without further delay,” the suit claims.

There are four parents representing three other transgender children in the original lawsuit, also identified with pseudonyms:

Brenda Boe is the mother of Bennett Boe, a 14-year-old transgender boy from Alachua County. Carla Coe is the mother of Christina Coe, a 9-year-old transgender girl from Duval County. Fiona Foe is the mother of Freya Foe, a 10-year-old transgender girl from Orange County.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida by the Southern Legal Counsel Inc., GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The order comes less than a week after the Florida Board of Medicine met in Tampa to adopt an emergency rule allowing transgender minors who already under treatment with puberty blockers to continue taking the medication for an additional six months. The recently enacted legislation banning minors from getting gender-affirming care included a carveout for patients already undergoing treatment.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health told the Phoenix that it does not comment on any pending litigation.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry is a reporter for Florida Phoenix. He has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.