Families sue to stop Florida ban on essential medical care for transgender youth

LGBT Youth

Possible policy halt as case proceeds 

Four Florida families filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday, March 23 challenging the Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine’s new rules that bans the medically necessary healthcare their transgender children need. 

Efforts to ban established medical care for transgender youth have been widely criticized by physicians, medical associations, and researchers, including over 300 healthcare providers in Florida who have experienced treating the distress that results when a transgender youth can’t live as who they are.

The enactment of Florida’s transgender healthcare ban, which went into effect on March 16, 2023, has faced considerable scrutiny as a politically-motivated process instigated by the governor. The ban ignores established medical and scientific consensus on medical care for transgender youth. Four Florida families — all proceeding under pseudonyms to protect their children’s privacy — will now be challenging the ban in federal court. 

Among the plaintiffs fighting the ban are Jane Doe and her 11-year-old daughter, Susan. The Does are a military family who moved to Florida when John Doe was stationed there as a Senior Officer in the U.S. Navy. 

“Like most parents, my husband and I want nothing more than for our daughter to be healthy, happy, and safe,” Jane Doe said. “Being able to consult with our team of doctors to understand what our daughter is experiencing and make the best, most informed decisions about her care has been critically important for our family. She is a happy, confident child, but this ban takes away our right to provide her with the next step in her recommended treatment when she reaches puberty.” 

Doe continued, “The military doctors we work with understand the importance of providing that evidence-based, individualized care. We’re proud to serve our country, but we are being treated differently than other military families because of a decision by politicians in the state where we are stationed. We have no choice but to fight this ban to protect our daughter’s physical and mental health.”

Many argue that medical bans contradict guidelines established through years of clinical research and recommended by every major medical association including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In Florida’s case, critics believe the policy unlawfully strips parents of the right to make informed decisions about their children’s medical treatment and violates the equal protection rights of transgender youth by denying them medically necessary, doctor-recommended healthcare to treat their gender dysphoria. 

“This ban puts me and other Florida parents in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most,” said Brenda Boe, who is challenging the ban on behalf of herself and her 14-year-old son, Bennett Boe. “My son has a right to receive appropriate, evidence-based medical care. He was finally getting to a place where he felt hopeful, where being prescribed testosterone was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body. That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.” 

Like Boe, Fiona Foe, who is challenging the ban on behalf of herself and her ten-year-old daughter, Freya Foe, said the ban is impacting her child’s ability to live as her authentic self. 

“Working with our healthcare team to understand what my daughter is experiencing and learning there are established, effective treatments that are already helping her to thrive, has been an incredible relief,” Fiona Foe said. “I know everyone may not understand what it means to have a transgender child, but taking away our opportunity to help our daughter live a healthy and happy life is cruel and unfair.”

Like Doe, Boe, and Foe, Carla Coe, a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with her nine-year-old daughter, Christina Coe, claims she simply wants to do right by her child, and fear the ban will strip away her daughter’s access to future medical resources. 

“Our daughter has been saying she is a girl since she was three — it hasn’t gone away,” Carla Coe said. “Since she started being able to live as a girl she has been so much happier and better adjusted. Having the resources and support to make the best decisions for her well-being has been so important for our family. I’m scared this ban will take away the essential medical care she may need when she gets older. We just want to do what’s right for our kid.”

The parent plaintiffs and their children are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and the Human Rights Campaign. Given the immediate and substantial harm their children face because of this ban, the plaintiffs intend to file a subsequent motion for preliminary injunction asking the federal court to halt the policy while their case against it proceeds. Similar bans on established medical care for transgender youth have been blocked by federal judges in Alabama and Arkansas.

“Parents, not the government, should make healthcare decisions for their children,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the NCLR. “This policy crosses a dangerous line and should concern anyone who cares about family privacy or the ability of doctors to do their jobs without undue government interference.”  

In the summer of 2022, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the Department of Health asked the state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine to adopt a categorical ban on all treatment of gender dysphoria for people under 18 years of age. In February and March of 2023, respectively, the Boards adopted formal rules prohibiting all access to safe, effective medical treatments for transgender youth who have received a gender dysphoria diagnosis but who have not yet begun puberty-delaying medication or hormone treatments. Surgeon General Ladapo and all members of the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine are defendants in the families’ suit challenging the ban.  

“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 the Transgender Rights Initiative at Southern Legal Counsel, said. “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.” 

Chriss continued, “I have worked with families and their healthcare 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.”

Jennifer Levi, Senior Director of Transgender and Queer Rights for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said, “The Florida Boards of Medicine chose to ignore the evidence and science in front of them and instead put families in the unthinkable position of not being able to provide essential healthcare for their kids.” 

“It’s alarming to see such a concerted, top-down effort to target a small and vulnerable population,” Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign Legal Director, said. “The Florida Surgeon General, Department of Health and Boards of Medicine should be focused on the real and serious public health issues Florida faces, not on putting transgender kids and their families in harm’s way.”