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Judge strikes down Florida’s ban on transgender care for minors

Kaleb Hobson-Garcia, a transgender man, drove from Tallahassee to speak during a press conference in front of the Marriott Fort Lauderdale Airport as the Florida Board of Medicine met in August 2022.
Jose A. Iglesias
The Miami Herald
Kaleb Hobson-Garcia, a transgender man, drove from Tallahassee to speak during a press conference in front of the Marriott Fort Lauderdale Airport as the Florida Board of Medicine met in August 2022.

Key parts of a Florida law that bans gender transition care for minors and imposes hurdles on adults seeking transition care are unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle of U.S. District Court in Tallahassee sided with advocacy groups and three families who had said that the law stripped them of parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their transgender children.

In a 105-page order, Hinkle said that “gender identity is real” and that a “widely accepted standard of care” includes puberty blockers and hormone treatments that Florida unlawfully banned.

“The state of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity,” Hinkle wrote.

The law, passed by Republican lawmakers and enacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May 2023, banned doctors and nurses from prescribing or administering transition-related medication to those younger than 18 and exposed medical providers to criminal liability and professional discipline if they did so, among other provisions. On Tuesday, Hinkle declared those and other provisions unconstitutional.

Last June, Hinkle temporarily blocked enforcement of those parts of the law for the children of the three families who filed the lawsuit, pending the outcome of a trial that was held in December.

His ruling Tuesday also invalidated the provisions requiring that adult patients seeking transition care meet with a doctor — not a nurse — in person and not through telemedicine. Those restrictions had been allowed to take effect before the trial.

Across the United States, more than 20 states led by Republican lawmakers have passed bans or sweeping restrictions on transition care for minors, an issue that has been at the center of the nation’s political debates.

Courts have issued mixed rulings in lawsuits challenging those laws, leaving transgender children in many states in limbo. In November, plaintiffs in the case against Tennessee’s law asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.

During the Florida trial, a lawyer for the plaintiffs cast the law as part of a suite of policies enacted by the DeSantis administration that discriminate against transgender people, including one that restricts the use of people’s pronouns in schools if they don’t match their sex assigned at birth. (Three educators challenged the pronouns law in December.)

A lawyer for the state countered that transgender care was unproven and risky and had been underregulated, and that the law in question would help protect Floridians.

DeSantis signed the law in the days leading up to the kickoff of his presidential campaign, which he ended in January. He has spoken in graphic terms about gender transition surgeries for minors, which he calls a form of “child mutilation,” putting him at odds with major medical associations.

The legislation went further than policies adopted in 2022 by the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine that banned hormone treatments and surgical care for transgender minors unless they were already receiving such treatments. It also penalized doctors who violated the law with up to five years in prison and required adults seeking transition care to sign a consent form.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2024 The New York Times

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