Jun 11, 2023

Florida’s Ban on Transgender Care Barred by Federal Court (1)

A federal judge in Florida Tuesday blocked the state from enforcing a law and medical board rules that prohibit transgender minors from receiving—and doctors from providing—puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

"Gender identity is real," Judge Robert L. Hinkle said. And Florida's adoption of provisions that prohibit treatments that are necessary to conform a person's identity to their "deeply felt internal sense of being male or female" likely is unconstitutional, he said.

The decision "is a powerful affirmation of the humanity of transgender people, the efficacy of well-established, science-based medical care, and of the rights of parents to make informed healthcare decisions for their children," organizations representing the seven families that brought the suit said in press release.

The Florida attorney general's office and attorneys for the medical board members didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg Law's request for comment.

The suit is one of several challenging restrictions on gender-affirming care that have been adopted by about 18 states. Hinkle's US District Court for the Northern District of Florida joined federal courts in Alabama and Arkansas in halting a law that plaintiffs say prevents access to standard treatments for gender dysphoria.

Hinkle found that the plaintiffs—parents of transgender minors who sued on behalf of themselves and their children—are likely to succeed on their claims that Florida's provisions violate the equal protection clause because they draw lines based on sex and gender nonconformity. Using intermediate scrutiny, Hinkle also said that the state doesn't have a legitimate interest in dissuading a person from conforming to their gender identity instead of their natal sex.

Florida's provisions "were motivated in substantial part by the plainly illegitimate purposes of disapproving of transgender status and discouraging individuals from pursing their honest gender identities," Hinkle also said. "This was purposeful discrimination" that violates the equal protection clause, he said.

The parents also are likely to succeed on their claim that the provisions unlawfully interfere with their parental right to control their children's medical treatment, Hinkle said.

The minors will suffer irreparable harm if denied treatment, Hinkle said.

Hinkle made a number of important findings along the way to issuing the injunction. For example, the "unspoken suggestion" that transgender identity isn't real—that it's "made up," a "false belief," a "charade," or a "delusion"—is a "dog whistle" that won't be tolerated, he said.

Moreover, treating gender dysphoria with puberty blockers or hormone therapy conforms with widely followed standards of care, Hinkle said. The "overwhelming weight of medical authority supports" these treatments, and "not a single reputable medical association has taken a contrary position," he said.

Hinkle disputed the defendants’ charge that these medical associations are motivated by politics, not good medicine. "If ever a pot called a kettle black, it is here," he said. The ban was politically motivated, he said.

Hinkle recently presided over a bench trial in a case challenging the Florida Medicaid agency's blanket restriction on paying for transgender care. He hasn't yet issued a decision in that case.

Sidney Austin LLP, Southern Legal Counsel, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders represent the four Florida families. Holtzman Vogel Baran Torchinsky & Josefiak PLLC represents the boards. The Florida Attorney General's Office represents the state. Jacobs Scholz & Wyler LLC represents additional defendants.

The case is Doe v. LaDapo, N.D. Fla., No. 23-cv-114, 6/6/23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at [email protected]; Drew Singer at [email protected]

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