Tennessee ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth reinstated 

An activist holds a placard with words 'Protect Trans Youth'.

A panel of judges has voted to reverse the block on Tennessee’s law barring trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers, while the legislation is being challenged in court. 

On Saturday (8 June), the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that the law can go into effect immediately. 

The panel of three judges voted to reverse the decision of a lower court, which prohibited the enforcement of the anti-trans law while it is undergoing legal challenges. 

The appeals court ruled that challenges to Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1 (SB1) were unlikely to succeed on claims that the ban is unconstitutional. 

SB1 denies all under-18s in the state the right to trans healthcare, such as physically-reversible puberty blockers. It also bans gender-affirming surgeries for minors, which is already not legal anywhere in the US – or in the many other countries worldwide, including the UK. 

The gender-affirming care ban was signed into law by governor Bill Lee on 2 March and would leave doctors who provide trans medical care to minors at risk of legal action from parents, guardians and the state attorney general. 

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On 26 April, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit challenging SB1 and alleging that a ban on providing medically necessary care to trans minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause. 

Attorney Henry Leventis for the middle district of Tennessee described the legislation as violating “the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens” and codifying “discrimination against children who already face far too many obstacles”.

In Saturday’s appeals ruling, Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote: “Life-tenured federal judges should be wary of removing a vexing and novel topic of medical debate from the ebbs and flows of democracy by construing a largely unamendable federal constitution to occupy the field.

The ban was previously scheduled to go into effect on 1 July, and is part of a tidal wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation – much of it targeting trans youth – currently sweeping the US.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 20 states have introduced laws banning trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care, while at least another seven are considering similar policies. 

Judge Sutton stated that the appeals court hopes to reach a final decision on the Tennessee law by 30 September.

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