The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case involving the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
In the petition filed Wednesday, the ACLU is asking the Supreme Court to review a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit that allowed the Tennessee ban to go into effect. The ACLU is arguing that the state’s ban violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and the rights of parents to make medical decisions for their children.
If it takes the case, it would be the first time the country’s highest court has weighed in on restrictions for gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
The ACLU first brought the case, L.W. v. Skrmetti, against the state of Tennessee this spring on behalf of the families of three minors and a Memphis-based doctor.
A federal judge granted those families a preliminary injunction blocking the law in June, but the 6th Circuit overturned that ruling in September, allowing the ban in Tennessee, plus a similar ban in Kentucky, to stay in effect.
The Tennessee law, Senate Bill 1, currently bars transgender individuals younger than 18 from seeking out gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy. Patients who were already receiving care before July will have to phase out treatments by March 2024.
However, the ACLU, medical providers and families of transgender youth in the state say that the law has already affected patients who began gender-affirming care prior to the enforcement of the ban.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center, one of the state’s largest providers of gender-affirming care, stopped treating all patients younger than 16 in July.
According to one health care provider at Vanderbilt who previously spoke to HuffPost, the medical center has also canceled surgeries for cisgender adolescents that could be seen as “pathways to gender affirmation.”
The medical center, where two of the three plaintiffs in the case received care, was the subject of a social media attack last year by right-wing blogger Matt Walsh, who falsely alleged that Vanderbilt was “castrating” and “sterilizing” children.
State Attorney General John Skrmetti started investigating Vanderbilt last summer and requested scores of patient medical records. The medical center’s decision to release records has been widely criticized and is now part of a federal civil rights investigation.
“It scares me to think about losing the medication that I need, and if this law continues, my family may have to leave Tennessee ― the place I have lived and loved my entire life,” said L.W., a 15-year-old transgender girl and one of the youths represented by the ACLU, in a statement. “I want the Justices to know transgender people are not going away and that we deserve the same rights as everyone else.”
Earlier this year, the ACLU found success in blocking bans on gender-affirming care and other anti-LGBTQ bills across the country. In June, for example, a federal court struck down Arkansas’ first-in-the-nation ban on gender-affirming care following a two-week trial.
But, as cases have moved up to higher courts, many of these initial wins have been overturned by federal judges who were nominated by former President Donald Trump.
The 6th Circuit decision on the Tennessee and Kentucky bans and an 11th Circuit ruling on an Alabama ban on gender-affirming care both cite arguments central to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the federal right to abortion.
The court argued in that ruling that abortion wasn’t “deeply rooted” in the “history and tradition” of the United States and thus wasn’t protected by the 14th Amendment. That same logic is being used on bans for gender-affirming care.
Tennessee’s ban, and the challenge to it, comes amid a rising culture of right-wing hostility and attempts to erase trans people from public life, with trans youth often at the center. Tennessee is just one of 21 states that have passed bans on gender-affirming care for youth during a year of record high anti-LGBTQ legislation and rising violence against queer and trans communities.
So far in 2023, state legislatures have introduced more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills not only targeting access to health care but also barring transgender students’ participation in sports, restricting the ability to use their preferred bathrooms and allowing school officials to out or misgender students.
“Tens of thousands of transgender youth like L.W. are at risk of losing the medical care that serves as the foundation of their entire life because of brand new laws that target them and only them,” Chase Strangio, an attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, said in a statement.
“These laws not only destabilize the lives of transgender youth but also disrupt their families and communities and threaten established legal protections with far-reaching implications,” Strangio added. “The justices have an opportunity to follow long-standing precedent and block Tennessee’s dangerous law.”