Florida medical regulators’ rule banning most gender-affirming care for transgender youth took effect Thursday, and a lawsuit is being filed against it, while legislators are considering a bill that would make the situation for trans youth and health care providers even worse.
The rule adopted by the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine prohibits doctors from providing the care to minors. This includes puberty blockers and hormone therapy as well as surgery; genital surgery is not recommended for minors anyway.
The osteopathic board initially adopted an exception allowing gender-affirming treatments for minors in clinical trials, but in February it scrapped that, bringing the two boards into agreement. Young people already on puberty blockers or hormones can continuing taking them, but no minor can initiate this treatment. Violation of the rule can bring fines and/or loss of a medical license.
“I am appalled” by the rule, says Dr. Kellan Baker, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Institute, an LGBTQ-focused health care organization. The move “will hurt children and hurt families and threaten the practice of medicine,” he tells The Advocate.
Several parents of trans children in Florida announced plans Thursday to challenge the rule in federal court. They are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Human Rights Campaign.
The regulation was “enacted at the direction” of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, and the state’s Department of Health, notes a press release from the organizations.
“This policy came about through a political process with a predetermined conclusion, and it stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and science,” Simone Chriss, director of Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative, said in the release. “There is an unbelievable degree of hypocrisy when a state that holds itself out as being deeply concerned with protecting ‘parents’ rights’ strips parents of their right to ensure their children receive appropriate medical care. I have worked with families and their health care providers in Florida for many years. They work tirelessly every day to ensure the best health outcomes for their kids and patients, and they are worried sick about the devastating impacts that this ban will have.”
“We know how essential it is for our daughter to get the medical care she needs, and this ban terrifies us,” said one of the plaintiffs, Jane Doe, mother of 11-year-old Susan Doe. “We have worked with our family doctors since our daughter was young to understand what she is experiencing and to carefully decide on the right path for her, which is to live as the girl she is. This ban bars us from getting her the treatment she needs when she hits puberty. Our daughter is a happy, confident child, but denying her access to the medical care recommended by her doctors would completely disrupt her life. I’m devastated by what this will mean for her physical and mental health.”
The Does are a military family, with the father, John Doe, stationed in Florida as a senior officer in the U.S. Navy. Therefore, moving to another state is not an option.
Meanwhile, Florida legislators are considering a ban that goes beyond the medical boards’ rule. It would make the provision of gender-affirming care to minors a third-degree felony, which means health care workers could face up to five years in prison, five years’ probation, or a $5,000 fine. “That is a serious step that we should be aware of,” Baker says.
The Florida Senate’s Health Policy Committee approved the bill Monday. Senate leaders are now determining whether it needs to be reviewed by another committee, the Miami Herald reports.
The original version of the bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough, “said that anyone who participated in providing gender-affirming care could face a third-degree felony, which had parents concerned they could be imprisoned,” the Tampa Bay Timesnotes. “That language was removed.”
The first version also said that parents who allowed their children to receive this care were subjecting their offspring to “serious physical harm,” putting parents at risk of losing custody. That was removed as well, and the bill now says Florida courts have the power to change custody agreements “to the extent necessary to protect the child from being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures … in another state.”
It doesn’t require a change, but that’s still a threat, Chriss told the Times. “The people that should be nervous are people in other states,” Chriss said. “It’s like a reverse safe haven.”
Even with minors already receiving gender-affirming care grandfathered in under the medical boards’ regulation and the proposed legislation, Florida is making the lives of trans youth miserable, Baker tells The Advocate. They face restrictions on school restroom use and what sports teams they can play on, plus the state’s infamous “don’t say gay or trans” law, limiting instruction on LGBTQ+ topics in public schools.
DeSantis and conservative lawmakers are using anti-LGBTQ+ actions as a distraction from Florida’s real problems, such as climate change, Baker says. “Florida is sinking, literally sinking, because of climate change,” he says.
Meanwhile, other states are enacting or considering bans on gender-affirming care and other anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, some of it worse than Florida’s. Baker calls for LGBTQ+ Americans and allies to be aware of what’s happening in their own states and nationwide, to speak out, to contact lawmakers, to testify, and to support organizations that are fighting back.
While the most vulnerable segment of the LGBTQ+ population, trans youth, are a primary target of anti-LGBTQ+ moves now, the whole community is at risk, Baker adds. “We shouldn’t think this stops with trans people,” he says. “This is a coordinated attack on all of us. … They are coming for all of us because they do not think LGBTQ people have a place in public life.”
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